A total of 16 Mariners made 22 trips to the disabled list during the 2017 season. Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly, four-fifths of the intended starting rotation for the team, missed a combined 438 games
Though he gave a healthy nod to the lapses in fundamentals and mistakes that were made by those on the field, general manager Jerry Dipoto pointed to the obvious in the Mariners’ end-of-the-year press conference.
“Where the season broke down largely was in the training room,” he said.
Like the breakdown in fundamentals, what happened with the injuries will be closely examined.
“It was an unfortunate circumstance,” said Dipoto. “We will look closely at what we are doing medically, what we are doing in training rooms. We are hours away from the end of the season so there is still a lot in process. Some of that will lead to answers in terms of how we can prepare for next season and better prevent injury.”
Dipoto acknowledged that a good amount of what happened to the Mariners fell into the category of bad luck.
“It’s not the fault of a trainer or a doctor, it’s the fault of fate,” said Dipoto, using the example of relief pitcher David Phelps, a midseason trade addition. “Fate didn’t shine on us kindly in the training room this year. Some of it is pure bad luck. There is some acute injury that happens in the moment and sends players careening toward the DL never to return for a season. That happened to us with David Phelps. David came to us with no issue and shortly after arriving he had an issue. You can’t really do anything about that.”
A number of the injuries were highly uncommon. The pectoral strain that James Paxton suffered is not an injury you see with pitchers. Ryan Weber suffered a nerve injury that has been seen just once before in baseball. Mitch Haniger got hit in the face with a pitch. Other injuries were in the moment, as Dipoto said. Jean Segura spraining an ankle, Jarrod Dyson running into a wall and injuring his toes, Evan Marshall tearing his hamstring on a cool night. These injuries can fall largely into the unlucky category.
There are outside factors that contributed to injuries as well. While nobody in baseball will, on the record, put any blame on the World Baseball Classic for injuries, I do not believe it is too hard to connect the dots when it comes to the Mariners. Spring training is about getting ready for a season. Starters need five to six spring starts to be ready to throw in games that count. Drew Smyly and Felix Hernandez threw in what was to them a huge game, USA vs. Venezuela, in a packed and loud stadium in Miami just days after Cactus League games began in Arizona. Smyly, who hit velocities he had not hit in years in that game, was never the same after he returned, and Felix landed on the DL a month later with shoulder inflammation that would plague him for the rest of the year.
I would go ahead and throw in Jean Segura as a possible WBC casualty, too. Segura’s preparation was disrupted as he was a late add to the Dominican Republic team. The Mariners’ concern was that he would sit too much during the tournament, but they received assurances he would indeed play. That did not happen. Segura missed not only the games his teammates were getting in Arizona, but also a good amount of the early work he would have had. There is no way to say he would or would not have suffered his hamstring strain in early April had he not gone to the WBC, but his preparation was certainly not the same.
The training staff clearly had little control over their players while they were away, and while many on Twitter have been quick to question the staff with the number of injuries this year, it is important to point out the history they have had. Prior to 2017 the Mariners were in the top three in each of the past 12 season in fewest games missed by pitchers on the DL. As of now, this year would appear to be an outlier.
The Mariners are not content to just hope this was the exception to the norm. As Dipoto said, everything will be looked at. Soft tissue injuries like muscle strains are an area of focus, perhaps one where they can make progress be it by routine, gear or, in some cases, avoiding fatigue. It will all be looked at.
Player health is an area where teams can have an edge, and to that end the Mariners have appeared to take advantage by increasing the staff through adding trainers, physical therapists, massage therapists, a nutritionist and even taking part in sleep studies. Players have extensive plans they were given before heading home for the winter and they will be checked in on periodically. The team lined up physical therapists when needed for players away from Seattle, and trainers will speak with them weekly. Out of sight is far from out of mind when it comes to the offseason. The first steps toward a healthier 2018 have already been taken.