Haniger is hitting .480 over his last 12 games, showing the same production as he did in April.
ARLINGTON, Texas — The first month of Mitch Haniger’s 2017 season had Mariners’ fans thinking that general manager Jerry Dipoto had gotten a steal of an everyday right fielder along with shortstop Jean Segura in the trade with the Diamondbacks that sent Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte to Arizona.
But a severely strained oblique on April 25 presented a major obstacle that interrupted and cooled that torrid start, sidelining him for eight weeks. A 95-mph fastball to the mouth on July 29 also caused delays and issues for a hitter, who was already struggling.
Just about the time people were ready to write off Haniger’s start — a .342 batting average, 1.054 on-base plus slugging percentage, seven doubles, a triple, four homers and 16 RBI in his first 21 games before the injury — as an outlier in an otherwise mediocre season, the rookie right-fielder has come to life. Now in this final month of the season, he’s looking like the hitter fans saw in April, if not better.
In his last 12 games, starting on Aug. 30 in Baltimore after a few days off as a reset, Haniger is hitting .480 (24 for 50) with a 1.340 OPS, five doubles, a triple, four homers and 11 RBI. The 24 hits over that span are more than any other player in Major League Baseball.
“I feel good at the plate, rhythm and timing are good,” Haniger said. “Hitting is tough. One day you’ll look terrible and the next day you’ll look great. I’m just trying to build off the successes and take it one pitch at a time and one at-bat at a time. I’m able to do what I want at the plate now, and it feels good.”
In between the strong April and this strong finish, Haniger missed two months with the oblique strain and then returned, struggling to find that timing and rhythm. There was also the disabled list stint after wearing that Jacob deGrom fastball off his lips. In 46 games, he hit .192 (32 for 167) with a .593 OPS, eight doubles, four homers, 14 RBI and 46 strikeouts.
But that two-day break at Camden Yards featured some early batting practice instruction from Edgar Martinez and Scott Brosius that corrected an issue.
“My contact point was too out in front and I was chopping it and popping it up,” he said. “When I see the ball deeper in the zone, it’s easy to stay through the middle of the field and cover more pitches.”
The grinding at-bats, where Haniger simply wouldn’t give in, have become the norm again.
Manager Scott Servais believed Haniger would find his way back because of the intense and almost obsessive daily routine for preparation that has been a constant since spring training.
“He’s very structured in everything he does,” Servais said. “There’s a plan. He’s a young player. But he’s not that young. It’s not like he’s 23 in the big leagues. He’s been around a little bit. And I think over time he’s learned the importance of routine and staying with a plan. He works his tail off. He’s just very prepared.”
Haniger was always a player that put in extensive pregame work, but some time around Diamondbacks’ stars Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock — both fanatical preparers — helped hone it. Haniger impressed the Mariners from the first day he put on their uniform.
“We talked about it in spring training about how he goes about his daily routine,” Servais said. “If those guys have the ability and they’ve shown you they have the ability, they usually get back going again in the right direction.”