The Mariners have had a lot of injuries this season, but there seems to be no consistent reason as to why.
Someone has to be blamed beyond the players who are actually performing on the field. It’s the mindset of fans, particularly on social media. If the pitching staff isn’t throwing strikes, it’s the pitching coach, who is teaching them wrong. If players are making errors in the field, it’s the position coach’s fault. If the team isn’t hitting, the hitting coach should be fired. Well, maybe not here in Seattle though.
The latest local finger of fault is being pointed at the Mariners’ training staff and/or the team’s strength and conditioning coach. Why? Well, the Mariners currently have 11 players on the disabled list — among the most in baseball. They’ve had four other disabled list stints for players, giving them a total of 15 on the season.
In the mind of some, this is the fault of the training staff led by longtime head athletic trainer Rick Griffin, an organizational institution, for not keeping them healthy.
“Matt Toth and I were talking in the training room about our experiences in the minor leagues and I’ve had something like this once,” said assistant athletic trainer Rob Nodine. “It’s an ordeal to go through. You just try to give the best care you can. We are looking at everything to figure out what is going on. It’s a difficult thing to do.”
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In the thinking of others, it’s on performance (strength and conditioning) coach James Clifford for not having them fit enough to avoid injury.
“In all my years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Clifford said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. Whether it’s one injury or as many as we have right now, it’s something that we try to evaluate, where we could have made adjustments, re-evaluate all the programming that has gone into each guy individually and take it from there. Our training staff and our strength staff are constantly communicating and going over everything.”
In truth, it’s the fault of neither. In looking at the age, the specificity of the injuries and the injury history of the players, it’s easy to see this as more fluke than function.
While no one in the Mariners will go on the record publicly, the World Baseball Classic was a factor in some of the injuries and the extended spring training because of the WBC is also seen as problem. It’s also easy to point out that the issues are a factor of older players, who are more susceptible to injury, and players with a history of spending time on the disabled list following that track record.
“It’s not only happened to us, but there have been other teams in the league that have been bitten by it as well,” manager Scott Servais said. “I wish there was one thing we could point to. There isn’t for me. It’s been a number of different scenarios that have caused it. Some of them of are veteran guys. Some are younger guys. It’s been crazy how it’s all come together at the same time. It is what it is.”
Let’s take closer look at all of the players that have been placed on the DL this season by the Mariners and their circumstances and injury history.
Robinson Cano, 2B, right quad strain (May 16)
The 31-year-old second baseman was placed on the DL after making a mild quad strain worse with an unexpected burst of hustle in trying for a fifth hit in Philadelphia. He’s expected to be back on Tuesday when the Mariners open the upcoming road trip. It was Cano’s first DL stint in 11 years. His last trip to the DL was in 2006 with a strained hamstring that kept him out 35 games. Realistically, Cano could have went on the DL in 2015 when he played through final two months of the season with a painful double sports hernia that required surgery immediately after the season was done.
Ryan Weber, RHP, biceps strain (May 15)
Called up to make a start against the Blue Jays, Weber, 26, was cruising along until he felt a piercing pain in his bicep when he threw a pitch. He tried to throw again and felt the same thing. It was something he’d never dealt with in his career. It was later diagnosed with a with a stretch of the musculocutaneous nerve. It was the fifth DL stint of his professional career. He had four trips to the DL while pitching in the minor league system of the Braves. In 2011, he had two separate DL appearances with elbow strains, limiting him to 15 total appearances. In 2014, he missed the final month of the season with another elbow strain and in 2015 he was sidelined from April 24 to July 6 with a right lat strain
Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP, shoulder inflammation, May 10
Iwakuma, 36, wouldn’t even be a member of the Mariners if not for a failed physical with Dodgers in the months before the 2016 season. Iwakuma had agreed to a three-year contract with LA, but questions surrounding his shoulder arose. The Dodgers wanted to re-negotiate a cheaper deal with less guaranteed years. Iwakuma chose to return to Seattle on an incentive-laden contract. He didn’t miss a start all last season for the Mariners. It was the first season since 2013 where he didn’t make a least one appearance on the DL for the Mariners. In 2015, he was sidelined from April 21-July 6 with a lat strain. In 2014, he started the season on the DL, suffering a torn tendon in his right middle finger after getting it caught in a net in a workout. In Iwakuma’s first season with the Mariners in 2012, he experienced dead arm issues in spring and the team was forced to keep him in the bullpen for the start of the season as he tried to build up arm strength to join the rotation. Iwakuma had dealt with injury issues during his time in Japan. In 2006, he made just six starts in the season with shoulder issues. The following season, he made just 16 starts after suffering a strained oblique and later lower back soreness. Following the season, he underwent elbow surgery. In 2011, the year before he joined the Mariners, he was out from May 28 to July 26 with shoulder soreness.
Evan Marshall, RHP, Hamstring strain, (May 6)
It was a terrifying sound when Marshall let out a loud scream following a pitch during the Mariners’ 13-inning loss to the Rangers. Brought in to pitch on a chilly night at Safeco after Jean Machi left the game with numbness in his thumb, Marshall felt a blast of pain in the back of his hamstring as he delivered a pitch and fell to the ground. He’d never had any sort of hamstring issue. His only previous stint on the disabled list came on May of 2014 when he struck in the head by a line drive. He suffered a skull fracture and later required surgery to relieve intra-cranial pressure on his brain.
James Paxton, LHP, forearm strain, (May 5)
After feeling some forearm tightness following his start in Detroit, Paxton felt it again and the Mariners placed him on the DL out of precaution. He’s expected to make a rehab start late next week and return to the rotation on the homestand that begins on May 31.
Fair or unfair, fans have often labeled Paxton as fragile for his numerous trips to the DL. He remained relatively healthy for most of last season. His only time on the disabled list came on the unlucky injury of taking a line drive off the bicep of his throwing arm. The 2015 season was a bit of a debacle. Paxton injured himself in a fall while warming up on the day before pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. It was a sign of things to come. He made just 13 starts after going on the DL on May 29 with a strained tendon in his middle finger. His return from that injury was slowed by a torn fingernail on the same finger that bled during games. In 2014, he made two starts and suffered a strained lat. He was sidelined from April 9 to Aug. 2 after suffering a setback in the recovery with shoulder tightness. In 2012 in the minor leagues, he missed a month right knee tendinitis.
Evan Scribner, RHP, flexor bundle strain, (April 29)
Scribner, 31, suffered a flexor bundle strain in his elbow, making just eight appearances this season. He was transferred to the 60-day DL and can’t return until June 28. Last year, he suffered a torn lat in spring training and was out until Sept. 2, being slowed by setbacks along the way. It was his second issue with a lat injury. In 2015 with the A’s, he tore the lat and missed the final month of the season. In 2011 in the minor leagues, he was sidelined form July 28 to the end of the season with a strained shoulder.
Mitch Haniger, OF, oblique strain, (April 26)
Haniger, 26, is close to returning. He participated in a full workout out on Saturday and is scheduled to go out on a rehab assignment for a handful of games and then join the Mariners on the upcoming road trip. Haniger had three trips to the DL in the minor leagues. He suffered a torn posterior cruciate ligament in July of 2012 that required season-ending surgery. He also had two short DL stints in 2014 with hamstring issues.
Felix Hernandez, RHP, right shoulder bursitis, (April 26)
It’s the second time in his career that Hernandez, 31, appeared on the DL with shoulder bursitis. In 2005, he was sidelined from June 24-July 10 with the same issue. He had remained relatively injury free despite reports of a degrading ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow before signing a contract extension in 2013. On April 19, 2007, he was placed on the DL with a strained right elbow and didn’t return until May 15. Last season, he missed six weeks on the DL with a strained calf suffered while working out and made worse while jumping around in the dugout. This season he battled groin issues before the shoulder pain.
Shawn O’Malley, utility player, Appendectomy/shoulder surgery, (March 30)
O’Malley, 29, was fighting shoulder issues in spring when he needed to have an appendectomy about a week before the season. He underwent shoulder surgery on May 8 to clean up the shoulder issue. In 2010, he missed 44 games with a shoulder injury. And in 2015, he was sideline for a month with a hand injury suffered while sliding into second base.
Shae Simmons, RHP, Right elbow strain, 60-day (March 30)
Expected to be a contributor in the bullpen, Simmons, 26, exited a Cactus League game on March 11 with forearm tightness. He was later diagnosed with a strained forearm. He’s battled injuries for much of his career. In 2014, he was sidelined on July 29 to the end of the season with a shoulder strain. He never threw a pitch in 2015, undergoing Tommy John surgery on Feb. 12. Setbacks slowed his recovery from the elbow surgery in 2016, he developed lat and shoulder issues in his rehab stints and was later shut down after seven big league appearances.
Drew Smyly, LHP, left arm flexor strain, 60-day, (March 30)
Smyly, 27, recently started playing catch in his lengthy recovery from a strained flexor in his forearm. After pitching well for the United States in one start in the World Baseball Classic, Smyly’s left arm never felt right in his return to spring training. Smyly missed 105 games in 2015 because of shoulder issues. He started that season on the DL with shoulder tendinitis. After making three starts, he went back on the DL on May 9 until Aug. 16 with shoulder soreness.In 2011, he had two stints on the DL because of a blister and an intercostals strain. In 2008, he was forced to redshirt as a freshman standout for the University of Arkansas with a stress fracture in his elbow that required surgery
Steve Cishek, RHP, offseason hip surgery, March 30-May 15
Cishek, 30, went on the DL in August of 2016 with hip pain that was later diagnosed as a tear of the labrum. It led to offseason surgery that was more invasive than first expected. He had microfracture repair in the hip, which lengthened the recovery process. His return was also slowed by mechanical issues in his rehab outings. Cishek had been relatively healthy for his career, going on the DL just once in 2009 for a month with elbow inflammation.
Tony Zych, RHP, offseason shoulder surgery, (March 30-April 14)
Zych, 26, dealt with tendinitis in his rotator cuff early in the 2016 season. He went on the disabled list on May 3 and was out until Aug. 23, 2016. He returned and the shoulder just wouldn’t recover as expected. He underwent offseason biceps tendon transfer surgery.
Jean Segura, SS, right hamstring strain, (April 11-25)
Segura, 27, suffered the strain running to first base and missed minimal time as expected. He had disabled list stints 2013 with the Brewers and 2011 in the minor league system with hamstring strains. Segura missed most of the 2008 season in the Arizona Rookie League after fracturing his leg. He also had two disabled list stints in 2009 and 2014 with fractured fingers.
Rob Whalen, RHP, right shoulder inflammation, March 30-April 27
Whalen, 23, had multiple injuries this spring. He suffered a strained calf that had him on crutches for a few days and out of action for a few weeks. The shoulder strain came later as he was working back. Whalen was sidelined from Aug. 25 to the end of the last season with shoulder fatigue. A tendon tear in his knee led to season-ending surgery in August of 2015. He also had a two-month DL stint in 2014 with the knee issues.