Spending the first two months of the baseball season on the injured list isn’t what Kyle Seager expected out of his 2019.
He showed up to the Seattle Mariners spring training complex in Peoria, Ariz. slimmer in February, after overhauling his diet and workout program during the offseason, and was ready to improve on his statistical slump last season.
Then, days before the Mariners wrapped up their spring, Seager dove for a ball down the third-base line in a game against the Cubs, and landed awkwardly. He didn’t think too much of the injury when it happened, but was pulled in the fourth inning, and he said his hand was swollen the next day.
What was originally thought to be a left wrist injury became a serious hand injury in the following days. Five days after the diving play, he had surgery to repair a tendon in his left hand, and was projected to miss at least a month of the regular season.
He was placed on the 10-day IL for the first time in his MLB career, later transferred to the 60-day IL, and missed his first Opening Day start with the Mariners after making six consecutive starts at third base from 2013-18.
Now, just days away from May 25, when he’s eligible to be reactivated, and making his final few rehab appearances with Triple-A Tacoma, Seager is ready for the long wait to be over.
“I physically feel good, and physically ready to roll,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for a while now. This is my first time on the (IL), so it’s been an adjustment. It’s been good getting to soak up a bunch of family time, that’s definitely been a positive you take out of this. But, I’m ready to get back out there, and get back to competing.”
With the same team and in the same city he’s spent his entire career. Seager played just 269 games in three seasons in the minors before he was promoted to Seattle for good in 2011. There, he appeared in 1,155 games across eight seasons without sustaining an injury severe enough to land him on IL.
“That was something I prided myself on,” Seager said. “That was my job. My job was to go out there and play every day, and try to help the team win every day.”
Looking back, Seager said there have been times in his career that he probably should have gone on the IL, when he pushed through some injuries that weren’t helpful for him or the team. He said this first stint has given him time to reflect.
Ahead of his surgery back in March, Seager acknowledged the injury was disappointing, but accepted injuries are something that comes along with playing the game.
“This is part of it, unfortunately,” he said then. “It is what it is. I did have a successful winter, and this doesn’t necessarily take away from that. There’s still things that I can continue to work on when I’m doing this.
“It’s not something I really wanted to happen, but we’ll deal with it, and we’ll rehab and get through it.”
Post surgery, Seager worked his way back to playing catch, then swinging, then taking at-bats off machines, gradually worked his way to his rehab stint with the Rainiers, and said he’s now working on trying to adapt to the speed of the game again.
“Not having spring training, and coming here and facing these guys that are competing is a bit of an adjustment,” Seager said. “But, physically, I feel good. I’m not in any pain. Arm, body, legs — everything feels good. And, especially the last two days, my swing has actually felt good. I’m right where I want to be.”
Seager hit off machines in Seattle as he built his strength back up, and said he stood in on some of Wade LeBlanc’s bullpen sessions, but facing live arms again has been different.
“When you’re actually going through active swinging, it’s a lot different than when you’re just standing there kind of watching it,” he said. “There are obviously good pitchers here, so you’re trying to get up to speed with guys who have been playing for a month and a half, and are in their midseason form. I think it was good for me. It makes you get up to speed quickly.”
In seven rehab appearances with Tacoma, Seager is hitting 9 for 32 (.281) with five runs scored, two doubles, seven RBIs, two walks and seven strikeouts. Tuesday night, making his first appearance in Cheney Stadium since 2011, he went 2 for 4 with a walk and drove in three runs.
Seager started working with Tacoma hitting coach Roy Howell during the road stretch the Rainiers spent in Nevada, which has helped him get back up to speed.
“Really in Reno, Howell and I got in the cage a lot and spent a lot of time in there talking through a bunch of things and getting everything acclimated,” Seager said. “Then just kind of watched film, and saw where I was rushing in certain areas. I hadn’t seen a pitch in nine, 10 weeks, so that’s normal stuff. But, we were able to clean up some things.”
Howell said reestablishing rhythm and timing, and refining subtleties like “making sure the stride is not too long, and his hands get where they’re supposed to get” is a priority with any player that misses significant time.
“He’s done real good with it,” Howell said. “The bottom line is that he feels good. That’s what we’ve been working on, trying to keep everything simple and slow. It’s hard. We’re competitors, and the chance to get back out there, you want to speed everything up.
“As we all know at this level, the next level, each level, the game becomes faster, so we have to slow down when it becomes faster to slow the game down. It’s kind of cliché, but that’s really the way it is. He’s really done a nice job with it.”
Seager has also been working on hitting the ball from line to line, Howell said, and has progressed there. And, in the past few days, the contact has clicked as well. Howell said he believes Seager is physically ready to return to the majors.
“Yep,” he said. “No question.”
As the bat gets going, Seager will also likely offer a defensive boost to the Mariners — who lead the majors with 54 errors in 50 games — as a former All-Star and Gold Glove winner. He is expected to rejoin the club at the end of the week when he is eligible, likely when the Mariners begin their three-game series in Oakland.
“Knowing Kyle, on the 25th Kyle’s going to be ready,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said recently. “That’s how I look at it. I certainly hope he is. I look forward to getting him back.”