OAKLAND, Calif. — While his teammates struggled to generate offense, missing his presence in the middle of the order, and suffered through the miserable homestand, Mitch Haniger was with them each day.
While being on the injured list for an extended period of time can make a player feel removed from their team, particularly on the road, Haniger tries to overcome that when the team is at home by logging the same amount of hours at the park, if not more than his healthy teammates.
“I usually get here around 1 p.m. to do my rehab and treatment stuff,” he said. “When I get done with that around 4 p.m., I try to sit in on the hitters’ meetings and then do some more strengthening.”
Haniger will eat dinner with his teammates and watch the first two or three innings in the dugout before going back to do extra strengthening or mobility work and recovery treatment until the game ends on most nights.
Similar to how he attacks everything in his profession, his rehab and recovery is one of total commitment. It won’t be delayed because of a lack of effort.
He knows he’s missed and wants to get back as soon as possible but within reason. Given the nature of his injury — a Grade 2 right high-ankle sprain — the recovery is complicated and coming back too soon could just lead to more problems.
“I’ve tried to ride that fine line of not overdoing it, but pushing it to where like, ‘OK, now I’ve got to stop because of pain,’” he said. “Then the next day you hope that you will respond well, so that you can go at it again. You want to avoid the times where you push too far and then you have to shut down for three or four days. The goal of the rehab is to get as close to that line as possible and not cross it. And I feel like we’ve done a really good job with that, just building and building.”
Haniger suffered the injury on April 29 in Miami. In his first at-bat after missing 11 games because of COVID-19, he injured the ankle while fouling off a 1-2 fastball from Elieser Hernandez. He took a hard swing at the pitch where his right ankle twisted awkwardly and his back knee dropped to the ground.
After a few moments to gather himself, he limped back into the batter’s box, smacking a single to left on the next pitch. He knew something was wrong when he tried to run to first base.
“I honestly thought my leg was broke,” he recalled.
Instead, he had suffered a sprain bad enough to cause a bone bruise. It forced him to the injured list. Because it occurred on the right ankle, which he uses to drive off on his swing, the initial prognosis was a 10-week recovery, putting a return to full health by mid-July.
Haniger believes he’s staying on track to that timeline and still hopes to be back sooner.
“It’s pretty much the same,” he said.
But he also admitted that given the amount of time he’s missed with the ankle injury and COVID before that, he will need more than a handful of games on a rehab stint.
“It’s just been too long,” he said. “I will need to get my timing back.”
So what has he been able to do?
Haniger has been active doing upper body work in the weight room along with core exercises. The ankle, which still looked a touch more swollen than his left ankle, is stable enough for him to do squats with weights and other lower-body lifting. The ballistic exercises that include variations of jumping and require stability in the ankle are the next step. Even something as simple as jumping rope must be monitored.
On the homestand he graduated to light hopping. He’d been doing some work in the pool but was cleared to start building strength on the ground.
“Hopefully I’m progressing to running soon,” he said. “I don’t know when that will be. I just have to kind of check off all the hopping drills, then the jumping exercises and skipping exercises prior to running. I think I’ll be there soon, but I don’t know.”
As for baseball activity, Haniger is doing what he can while still protecting the ankle. Given the amount of torque he puts on his lower body, he can’t swing with any sort of intent until the ankle is more stable.
“I’ve been doing some light throwing in the cage and then I’ve been swinging. I put my knee on a box, so I don’t have to rotate on my ankle,” he said. “I can do a lot of hitting that way. It’s not quite the same, not quite full swings, but definitely I will be able to continue to keep my hand-eye and at least work on my upper body mechanics working and working on keeping my core strong.”
Romo, Gerber free agents
After being designated for assignment by the Mariners, right-handed relievers Joey Gerber and Sergio Romo cleared waivers and were granted their unconditional release from the organization and are free agents.
Signed to a one-year, $2 million contract during spring training as a possible replacement for Casey Sadler, Romo, 39, posted an 8.16 ERA in 17 appearances for the Mariners. He struggled in his last four appearances, giving up runs in key situations.
Gerber, 25, was an eighth-round pick out of the University of Illinois in 2018. With a funky delivery and a deceptive, mid-90s fastball, he made his MLB debut in 2020 and appeared in 17 games, posting a 4.02 ERA.
A back injury that required surgery kept him out for the entire 2021 season. He suffered a strained forearm during spring and suffered a setback in his one appearance this season.