HOUSTON — For the first time since May 31 of last year, Kyle Lewis will be in the starting lineup for a regulation baseball game.
The Mariners announced via Twitter that Lewis will start his rehabilitation assignment Tuesday night with Class AAA Tacoma in Salt Lake City.
Rainiers manager Tim Federowicz slotted Lewis in the No. 3 spot in the batting order as the designated hitter.
“We’ve mapped out what it looks like for the next couple of weeks for him with playing time and his ramp up,” manager Scott Servais said. “We’ll get him out playing in the field on consecutive days and all that other good stuff. We’ll see how it goes.
A rehab stint for a position player has a maximum of 20 days. It’s possible that Lewis will use all 20 days of it before returning to the Mariners. After reporting to spring training unable to participate in fully workouts, he wasn’t able to play in any MLB spring training games. Lewis has been participating in extended spring training games. But those are controlled environments and not always nine-inning games.
“I do know he needs to play some. I don’t think it’s going to be like a two- or three-game rehab,” Servais said. “He’s been out a long time and I’m just excited for him. I know he’s worked his tail off to get back and feel completely healthy. I don’t want him to come to us unless he feels 100% and he’s good to go.”
Servais wasn’t certain if Lewis would play in back-to-back games immediately or if he will have days off after playing in the field.
“He’s been playing on consecutive days (at extended spring training),” Servais said. “We might be a little bit more aggressive than what we normally would be right out of the chute to calm because he’s played quite a bit at extended.”
The Mariners will be cautious with Lewis. They won’t let him go out on the field if his knee isn’t feeling right. They want to avoid potential setbacks in this recovery.
“It’s all about how he feels,” Servais said. “I do not want to bring him back until he feels 100% committed and he can do everything you need to do on the field to help our team.”
If a healthy Lewis can return in 20 days, he could provide a lift to a lineup that is without Mitch Haniger, who suffered a Grade 2 high ankle sprain.
If/when Lewis returns, it’s likely that he will be used more as a designated hitter than an outfielder. There is a concern that the wear and tear of playing in the outfield on a daily basis could lead to more knee issues.
Lewis suffered the torn meniscus in his right knee while trying to make a difficult leaping catch and landing awkwardly in the eighth inning of that game on May 31, 2021. He had surgery that would ultimately end his 2021 season on June 11.
He played in 36 games, posting a .246/.333/.392 slash line with four doubles, five homers, 11 RBI, 16 walks and 37 strikeouts in 147 plate appearances.
It was the second time in the 2021 season that playing defense caused a knee issue. Lewis suffered a bone bruise in the right knee in the final week of 2021 spring training while trying to make a catch at the wall. He was forced to start the season on the injured list and missed the first 17 games.
The knee problems started in his first professional season after being taken with the 11th overall pick in the first round of the 2016 draft.
On July 19, 2016, Lewis suffered a gruesome knee injury in an awkward play at home plate while trying to avoid a collision with a catcher resulting in a torn anterior cruciate ligament as well as a torn medial and lateral meniscus. It required season-ending reconstructive surgery the following month.
After playing in part of the 2017 season, Lewis was still bothered by discomfort in the knee during offseason workouts. He opted to have surgery to repair the pad near his patella and remove a bone fragment early in February 2018, delaying his start to that season.
The knee issues seemed behind him after a 2019 season where he played in 122 games for Class AA Arkansas and made his MLB debut that September, playing in 18 games.
Lewis played in 58 of the 60 games in the shortened 2020 season, winning the American League Rookie of the Year award by unanimous vote.
Adam Frazier made his first start in left field for Seattle this season. Normally a second baseman, Frazier has appeared in 113 games in left field in his career, starting 79.
He was doing some early work Tuesday afternoon at Minute Maid Park in preparation for the start later that night.
“It’s an opportunity to get Wink (Jesse Winker) a DH day,” Servais said. “We’re playing I think it’s 16th straight days. So giving these guys a day, but maybe keep the bat in the lineup and get them off their feet a little bit, we’ll continue to do that. I’m thinking about maybe giving Ty France a (DH) day here the next day or two and play somebody else at first base. It’s just where we’re at. We’re trying to keep those guys fresh. It’s a long year ahead of them.”