The walking boot sits in front of Mitch Haniger’s locker with its days numbered. Hopefully some time next week, it will be lit on fire and melted into an unrecognizable state, though probably not on his prized Traeger smoker where he does most of his cooking. Or Haniger will smash it into pieces with one of his Victus bats like the fax machine in the movie “Office Space.”
“It will be gone from my life,” he said flatly.
For now, it’s on his right foot for at least part of his days as he recovers from a high-ankle sprain suffered in his first plate appearance back from an 11-game absence on the COVID injured list.
“I’m like half in it and half out of it this week,” he said. “If this week goes well then hopefully, I’m not in it anymore. They want you to ease out of it.”
Boot free steps represent initial steps in what could be lengthy recovery from a Grade 2 ankle sprain.
“From there, honestly, it’s like a wait-and-see kind of thing,” Haniger said. “I’ve heard it’s difficult to deal with. As far as getting back in games, I think like a rough estimate would be from date of injury is 10 to 12 weeks, but at the same time, I’ve heard it can go on the earlier end and I’ve also heard on the longer end.”
Haniger suffered the injury on April 29, so a 10-week recovery would be around July 10 and a 12-week would be after the All-Star Game. If you factor in a rehabilitation stint to get him game ready, it’s an even more complicated and less certain timeline.
“For me, my goal would be to get back earlier than that, but I’ve never suffered a high-ankle sprain before,” he said. “I don’t even know how it’s going to feel in two weeks. But from everyone I’ve talked to, I think it’s a realistic time frame.”
While it was listed as a Grade 2 sprain, Haniger said that it was severe enough to result in a bone bruise.
“I have never had this happen before,” he said. “Not in all the years I’ve played sports even football. I’ve never sprained my ankle like this.”
After limping around for a few seconds to regain his composure, Haniger stepped into the box and smoked a single to left field on the next pitch. But when he left the box, he felt an awful pain in his leg as he hobbled to first base.
And part of the concern is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Baseball is played from the ground up and Haniger puts a tremendous amount of pressure on that right leg on his swing. With a high left leg kick, the right leg explodes the built-up energy to transfer forward in his swing. When he swung and missed at a slider from Sandy Alcantara in that first at-bat back from the IL, his ankle buckled awkwardly under that torque. But the pain was higher than the ankle area, feeling like he’d fouled a ball off his leg.
“I honestly thought I broke my leg,” he said.
The idea of putting his right ankle and lower leg in such a position to hit seems far off.
“Until I’m able to test it out like that and then build strength in those positions, it’s going to be a little while unfortunately,” he said. “Once I’m able to do full-weight bearing stuff, I can build my balance up again and then hopefully build my strength back. I’ve just got to go slow, go week by week.”
Watching his teammates struggle to score runs and clearly missing his presence in the middle of the lineup has been agony for him. He knows he’s needed, but he also can’t come back to soon and reinjure it again.
Haniger can’t help but wonder if the effects of his bout with COVID and then with what was later diagnosed as a nasty sinus infection might have somehow played a role in the ankle sprain. After getting cleared to return from the COVID IL, Haniger worked out with the team for three days in Tampa but didn’t feel right. He thought he had some after-affects of COVID, including intense congestion and pressure that made him feel uneasy when it came to his balance and competing at maximum effort.
In talking with other players who dealt with COVID, nearly all of them said they started to feel normal after two weeks. Haniger felt normal other than the pressure he could feel in his face and head.
“It’s difficult to judge where I was in terms of like, balance and stuff like that, because my body felt good,” he said. “I felt strong. For a while, I was beating myself up because I thought I should know better to not come back early. But at the same time, everything made sense. Physically, I felt good other than the pressure in my head and nose. But you think it’s just a sickness and you’ll be fine.”
So Haniger decided he would play in Miami.
“Sitting on the sidelines kills me,” he said. “Playing this game and playing a 162-game season, you get used to not feeling 100% and playing. So when you’re feeling really close, you’re are basically ready to go.”
For the Mariners, not having Haniger for an extended period is less than ideal. For Haniger, this isn’t ideal either since he will be a free agent after the season. But his only focus is getting his ankle back to normal and getting back on the field to help the Mariners win.
“This hasn’t changed my goal to a win a World Series with this team,” he said. “My goal is to come back and put this team into the playoffs. So I need to come back strong, healthy, ready to go, ready to play every day and take this team to the playoffs and the World Series.”
Reporting from Tacoma
The Mariners had two players participating in rehab stints at Cheney Stadium, Tuesday afternoon at Cheney Stadium
Right-hander Sergio Romo pitched one inning, allowing one run on a solo homer, in what is expected to be a one-game rehab.
Meanwhile outfielder/designated hitter Kyle Lewis went 1 for 3 with a crisp single and also a walk.
With all of minor-league baseball off on Monday, Lewis was at T-Mobile Park getting treatment on his surgically repaired right knee and sat down with manager Scott Servais.
“He’s in a really good spot,” Servais said. “He wants to get to the point he where could play two, three days in a row and feel very comfortable doing that. You don’t want to put a timetable on it. But just talking to him and hearing where he’s at. I think we’re getting closer. And I don’t have a date yet where he’ll be with us and joining us, but I do think we’re getting close.”
A MLB rehabilitation stint is 20 days for a position player. Both Servais and Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said Lewis would likely use the full 20 days to get back to game shape.
Lewis started his rehab stint with Tacoma on May 3.
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