At varying points of the offseason, both general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais were asked about the health status of All-Star outfielder Mitch Haniger and where he was at in his recovery from the two most recent of three surgeries he underwent in the span of seven months.
Each time, they referenced videos from Haniger’s various social media accounts as indicators of progress in his recovery.
Haniger’s activity on social media is minimal compared to top prospect Julio Rodriguez or even Marco Gonzales. Most of his Instagram pics and videos center around his boxer named Hazel or his hobby of grilling and smoking various meats, while his tweets are usually about UFC fights or retweets and quote tweets about baseball, clothing and some politics.
But there were a few videos that proved useful. There was an Instagram video of him rolling around on a mat while hugging a big bean bag with the caption: “300LB sandbag gator wrestle @apiros.team.” And the Mariners Twitter account pulled the video from one of Haniger’s Instagram stories, featuring him crushing a pitch in the cage with that explosive, body-contorting swing.
But on Thursday, Haniger offered his own health status update in a video conference with local media during the Mariners’ Virtual Baseball Bash.
“Every surgery sucks,” he said. “They’re never fun and it’s never something you want to go through. But I think I’m better for having gone through it. It’s only going to set me up for more success now. I feel better than ever now. That’s kind of how I just choose to look at it.”
The easier path would be to look and lament at all that was lost since that fateful 94-mph fastball from Justin Verlander on June 6, 2019.
Haniger swung viciously at the pitch, which was riding in toward his hands. The result was a foul tip to his groin area, which wasn’t being shielded by a protective cup.
The impact ruptured Haniger’s testicle, though he didn’t know it at the time. He finished the at-bat and played three more innings before being removed from the game. He underwent surgery within the next 24 hours to repair the damage.
The next two surgeries were products of that initial injury. An undiagnosed tear of his adductor muscle attachment in his lower core area arose in his first attempt to return in July. In September, searing back pain — likely the result of compensating for the core injury — hampered a late comeback attempt.
But it wasn’t until January of 2020 when Haniger tried to intensify his offseason training in preparation for upcoming spring training did he realize the pain in his core was still there. After a hard workout, he couldn’t walk the next day. A core specialist in Philadelphia diagnosed the injury and performed immediate surgery.
In the days after the core surgery, Haniger’s basic rehab was being hindered by the familiar back pain. A visit to a back specialist revealed a herniated disc. Just over 20 days after his core surgery, he underwent an discectomy.
An expected six-month recovery was going to cost him most of the 2020 season. And when baseball was shut down for 3 ½ months due to COVID-19 and a 60-game regular season was installed, the Mariners decided to have Haniger sit out the truncated season and focus on getting healthy for 2021.
“I felt like it was the right decision to make sure I did everything right and make sure I’m strong and really confident before I do anything and make my progression baseball-wise,” Haniger said.
His return to full health also got delayed by COVID with most of the rehab facilities closed for over a month.
Once Haniger was able to get into a rehab facility to finish the recovery from surgery, he had to re-add muscle to his frame. Unable to lift or workout, he dropped down from 215 pounds to 195. He went into offseason mode, training at Sparta Science, his normal offseason gym in the Bay Area for basic strength, while incorporating Apiros’ Austin Einhorn’s unique training into his routine.
“I’m moving better than I ever had before, and I feel just as strong and stronger in most of the subtle places since my training has been a lot different,” Haniger said. “It really got my core strength strong and I’ve noticed a huge difference with my hitting. My swing feels much better, I’m able to get more out of my body.”
Ah yes, hitting. The strength of Haniger’s game and a need for the Mariners this season. He was cleared to pick up a bat in the first week of November.
“I was on a strict tee regimen for a month,” he said. “That was tough because I wanted to just jump right back into flips, but I know how important sticking on a plan is coming off a surgery. I had no idea what to expect because it had been so long and I had back surgery.”
What he found was that his swing was the same, only better.
“I think my swing has never felt this good in an offseason before,” he said. “A lot of that is because I’ve never moved this way before. I think I get into better positions than I have been able to in the past. It felt good right away.”
Haniger has missed so much time, so many games and so many at-bats. But he has no fear of rust or timing issues.
“A lot of rust can be eliminated through training hard and working out in the cage and making your training environment very challenging,” he said. “That’s exactly what I’ve done all offseason. And there’s some things in spring training that I’ll do a little differently this year that I haven’t done in the past that I think will prepare me well.”
He knows can’t get the time back. But he can’t dwell on it with a season looming.
“Injuries can derail your career,” he said. “But at the same time, I think you can come back stronger from them if you put in the time and learn your body better and kind of understand why those things happen. I think I’ve had a good handle on things. This last year has been a long one, but I’m really happy with how things are going now and starting to look forward to the future.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Mitch Haniger’s initial injury occurred in 2019, not 2018.