The need is obvious. The storyline is delicious. The possibility for actual sustained success given all the variables of the situation seems questionable.
But when your offense is barely registering a pulse and scoring more than three runs in a game is a seemingly impossible quest, then you have to try something to change the trend.
The Mariners hope that veteran outfielder Justin Upton, perhaps motivated by playing the team that released him in spring training, will provide a spark to the offense and the team over the next three days (four games) and possibly beyond.
Seattle recalled the 34-year-old outfielder from Class AAA Tacoma on Friday afternoon, optioning utility player Sam Haggerty to the Rainiers.
“Excited to have Justin Upton joining us today,” manager Scott Servais said. “He didn’t know if he’d get another opportunity again and he still felt he had something left to give. We’re looking to give him an opportunity to do that, not just on the field, but in our clubhouse.”
Servais mentioned that the Mariners have the second-youngest position player group in all of baseball and Upton could provide some leadership, particularly with veterans Mitch Haniger and Tom Murphy on the injured list.
“I feel good,” Upton said. “I’m happy to be here. It’s another opportunity to play baseball.”
Upton will wear No. 8 and was batting sixth and playing left field in the starting lineup Friday night against the Angels.
(Update: In the fifth inning of Friday’s game, Upton was struck in the helmet on a 91-mph fastball from Angels starter Michael Lorenzen. He left the game, but Servais said Upton never lost consciousness and was talking to him and the athletic trainers. The Mariners hope he will be able to play in Saturday’s doubleheader).
“He’ll play quite a bit,” Servais said. “He’ll mix in at some DH and you’ll see him in the corner outfield spots.”
How much is quite a bit?
“I’m not going to run him out there for 10 games in a row unless he hits 10 home runs in those 10 days that might be different,” Servais said. “We’ll just give him an opportunity to kind of work his way in, and hopefully he can help out offensively in the middle of our lineup.”
Servais said outfielder Taylor Trammell will still see playing time with right-handed starting pitchers on the mound.
“Taylor will still play,” Servais said. “There’s no question about it. When there is a right-handed starter, I want to keep Taylor in there. I think he’s done some really positive things when he has been in there.”
The Mariners signed Upton on a one-year MLB contract for the prorated league minimum May 21.
He has spent the past three-plus weeks getting himself back into playing shape, first reporting to the team’s facility in Arizona and later joining the Rainiers.
In 12 games with Tacoma, Upton posted a .200/.289/.378 slash line with two doubles, two homers, six RBI, six walks and 18 strikeouts.
“It started out really slow for me, just not seeing pitches for that long,” Upton said. “But everything starts to get a little more clear, the more pitches you see. I think I got quite a few at-bats down there and I got pretty comfortable.”
With a crowded outfield and wanting to play younger players, the Angels designated Upton for assignment April 2.
It was a bold move considering Upton was in the final year of a five-year, $117 million contract, meaning the Angels would have to pay him $28 million this season if nobody claimed him off waivers, which predictably no team did, making him a free agent.
Upton didn’t generate much interest via free agency and was at home working out on his own when the Mariners called and offered him an opportunity.
“I was just trying to stay in shape, going to the gym, taking swings as much as I could and keep my arm ready,” Upton said. “But you can’t really duplicate what you get playing day in and day out. So that was tough.”
Upton is a four-time All-Star with those appearances not coming recently (2009, ’11, ’15, ’17) and has battled injuries and inconsistency during his time with the Angels.
In 2021, he played in 89 games, posting a .211/.296/.409 with 12 doubles, 17 homers, 41 RBI, 39 walks and 107 strikeouts. Over the past four seasons, he has a .231/.319/.436 slash line with 68 homers and 188 RBI while playing in 339 games.
Servais said they won’t announce a starter for Saturday’s doubleheader nightcap until after the first game. The staff is still evaluating possible pitching plans.
The day (1:10 p.m.) and night (7:10 p.m.) split doubleheader due to the MLB lockout delaying the start to the season isn’t typical. The four games in three days include the teams playing three games (Friday through Saturday) in roughly a 24-hour period.
It’s only the fourth doubleheader to be played at T-Mobile Park.
This series against the Angels is the 12th five-game series in Mariners
history. The last came on Aug. 26-29, 2004, when the Mariners hosted the Royals at T-Mobile Park.