Triple-A Tacoma trailed early but rallied quickly for a five-run second inning on Sunday afternoon, mostly coasting past El Paso after Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger’s three-run homer.
The blast was a low line drive, quickly exiting the field at Cheney Stadium and dropping below the left field fence near Tacoma’s bullpen. Two fans behind the fence jumped for the opportunity to snag the souvenir — a home run off the bat of an All-Star, to boot.
Haniger found the 1-0 breaking ball over the plate and barreled the offering, marking his second home run for the Rainiers in five games during a rehab assignment for a high ankle sprain.
Last seen in a Mariners uniform on April 29, Haniger added two walks and played right field for seven innings of Tacoma’s win.
He began his rehab assignment with High-A Everett on July 22, appearing in three games for the AquaSox, and the 31-year-old says he’s feeling healthier now than at any point since the injury.
“He’s looking a lot better than I expected. Especially coming off an ankle injury like that,” manager Tim Federowicz said of Haniger. “We’ll see. He knows his body.”
Haniger’s homer provided a three-run gut punch, but Tacoma’s Scott Heineman doubled home Zach Green in the third inning of Sunday’s game and later singled home Forrest Wall in the fifth. Green poked his 14th home run over Cheney Stadium’s left-center field wall in the seventh, the last run to cross home in an 8-3 win for the Rainiers.
Tacoma grabbed four of six from the Chihuahuas last week, improving to 43-55 on the season. The Rainiers finished 13-11 in July.
There’s still no concrete timetable for Haniger’s return to Seattle, though the right fielder says he’s building strength and stability back in his right ankle and “getting better and better each week.”
Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said Haniger could be with the major league club by Friday when Seattle kicks off a four-game weekend series with Los Angeles.
For now, though, the plan is for Haniger to stay with Tacoma for the week in Sacramento, Federowicz said.
Haniger was 4-for-14 (.286) with two home runs and five walks throughout the Rainiers’ last homestand, and in Everett the weekend before, he was 3-for-9 with another homer.
It was tough to be away from the Mariners amid their recent 14-game win streak, Haniger said, but to witness the historic stretch was enjoyable.
“It’s never fun to sit on the sidelines, but I’ve been really happy with how the (Mariners) are playing,” Haniger said. “It’s been really fun. I’m definitely working as hard as I can to get back as soon as possible.
“I’m excited to get back, help this team make the playoffs and win a World Series.”
Less than 24 hours before Haniger’s homer and Tacoma’s Sunday win, outfielder Trey Amburgey lifted the Rainiers to victory with a late-inning, two-run home run Saturday night. The blast turned a one-run deficit into a one-run lead, which the Rainiers kept in a 5-4 win.
“That was amazing, especially for Trey,” Federowicz said. “I mean, he’s been grinding. Really hadn’t had much luck. He hit the ball hard. Hasn’t had a ton of playing time either, so for him to come through in that situation was huge. Everyone was really excited. Big part of the game.”
Tacoma pitchers worked a shutout in Tuesday’s series opener with the Chihuahuas en route to a 2-0 win. Drew Ellis tied Wednesday’s game with a ninth-inning homer, but El Paso’s offense erupted with five runs in the 12th inning for a 9-4 win.
Haniger pushed his first homer — a solo shot to right field — in Tacoma’s 4-1 win over El Paso on Thursday night. But, the Chihuahuas secured their second and final of the win Friday night, 4-1, despite a quality start from Rainiers starter Chris Mazza.
“You get to this point in the season, it’s always a grind in July and August,” Federowicz said. “The hottest months, and we’ve been playing in some hot places. But when the team comes together, good things can happen. And I think we’re getting to that point now.”
MARINERS RECALL KELENIC
Moments before Saturday’s national anthem at Cheney Stadium, Federowicz returned to his clubhouse office, scrambling to find a replacement for Jarred Kelenic.
The 23-year-old outfielder was still unaware, but the Mariners had recalled him to the major leagues. Federowicz penciled in Amburgey on the lineup card, and within minutes, had Kelenic in his office to deliver the news.
“It was a unique one,” Federowicz said.
At first, Kelenic thought he had been traded. It was a rational assumption, given Seattle’s blockbuster trade to acquire Reds ace Luis Castillo only the night before. T
But Kelenic wasn’t on the move, at least not to another club. Federowicz relieved him of his worries.
“I hope (the move) is permanent. I mean, I think he deserves it,” Federowicz said Sunday. “I think he’s a good enough player to be up there for good. Obviously, we’ll see. If he doesn’t play well, he earns the right to come back.”
Kelenic boarded a flight for Houston at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, not arriving at Minute Maid Park until the third inning of that afternoon’s game, he told Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times. Kelenic threw on his jersey, took roughly 10 swings in the hitting cage, and entered the game as a defensive replacement in the bottom of the fifth.
He finished 0-for-3 in an eventual extra-inning loss to the Astros, 3-2. But Kelenic had impressed the organization enough in 54 games for Tacoma — he slashed .288/.353/.550 in 252 plate appearances — to warrant his recall.
“His plate discipline was probably the most impressive thing,” Federowicz said. “Being able to lay off the tough breaking balls, take his walks when they give them to him.”
Kelenic’s defense is where Federowicz believes he improved most in two-plus months with the Rainiers.
He wasn’t a lackluster defender previously, but Federowicz noticed improvement in Kelenic’s outfield play as he recovered from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for most of a week in mid-June.
Added Federowicz: “The defense really turned the corner.”
▪ Forrest Wall is closing in on Tacoma baseball history, now at 29 stolen bases in a year the 26-year-old outfielder could swipe 40 bags or more.
Wall may be too far off Jimmy Sexton’s pace, who set Tacoma’s franchise record of 56 stolen bases in a single season for the 1981 Tigers. But, he could reach the elusive 40-mark, a feat accomplished by only seven Tacoma players.
Wall currently ranks third in the Pacific Coast League in stolen bases, and if he can reach 43, would tie Rusty McNealy (1983) for second-most in Tacoma history.
“Every time he gets on base, it’s exciting. Something can happen,” Federowicz said of Wall. “He can force action and steal any base against anybody. He’s a great guy to put in the lineup, especially when he’s getting on base.”
▪ Taylor Trammell (right hamstring) began a rehab assignment with Tacoma on Sunday, and the 24-year-old outfielder went 2-for-3 with a walk in the Rainiers’ 8-3 win over El Paso.
Trammell walked in his first at-bat and singled to left field as part of a five-run second inning. He singled again softly to center field in the seventh inning, marking his second hit as the team’s designated hitter. It was the outfielder’s first game action since June 29, when Trammell exited T-Mobile Park in Seattle with a right hamstring strain.
▪ Seattle selected the contract of left-hander Brennan Bernardino on Saturday afternoon, and the 30-year-old made his major league debut for the Mariners at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Sunday.
In seven appearances for the Rainiers, Bernardino posted a 2-0 record with a 0.79 ERA in 11 1/3 innings. He was signed to a minor league contract by Seattle on June 27 after pitching for the Toros de Tijuana in the Mexican Baseball League, and the 6-foot-3 reliever impressed with Tacoma after adjusting his delivery.
“He was nasty,” Federowicz said of Bernardino. “He was throwing from two different angles. … We kind of had the conversation to keep him down low, and he started having really, really good success, and his stuff showed.”
▪ Tacoma pitchers combined for no walks in Saturday’s 5-4 win over the Chihuahuas, the first such occurrence of the season for the Rainiers. Tacoma had 18 one-walk games prior to the club’s first walk-less performance.
Tacoma (43-55) receives Monday off before kicking off a six-game set in Sacramento against the River Cats on Tuesday. Lefty starter Justus Sheffield takes the mound for a 6:45 p.m. first pitch.
The Rainiers took four of six from the River Cats during Tacoma’s last trip to Sutter Health Park from May 17-22, outscoring Sacramento 32-20 in the series.