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Top Seattle sports stories of 2017: Plague of injuries holds back Mariners

Felix Hernandez was one of the more significant Mariners to hit the DL in 2017. (AP)

The 12 hosts of 710 ESPN Seattle have voted on the top Seattle sports stories of 2017. Each day we will count down to the top story of the year with an article by a different host. Today, Shannon Drayer covers the fifth biggest story, the Mariners’ plague of injuries that resulted in Seattle using a historic number of pitchers and was a factor in the M’s falling short in the playoff race.

Perhaps no moment better epitomized the Mariners’ 2017 season than what took place on the mound in the fourth inning of their game against the Blue Jays in Toronto on Saturday, May 13.

After throwing his 52nd pitch of the ballgame, the Mariners’ starter grabbed his elbow. Players, manager Scott Servais and a trainer converged on the mound, and after just a few seconds the starter walked off the field. That player was Ryan Weber, who had arrived in Toronto just hours earlier from Triple-A Tacoma and was making his Mariners debut. He was making the third spot start in as many games for the Mariners, with Chase De Jong and Christian Bergman filling in the previous two games.

In a span of 18 days, James Paxton, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma had been lost to injury. On the disabled list they joined Drew Smyly, who didn’t make it to opening day. In fact, he didn’t even make a pitch that counted for the Mariners, eventually undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery after months of trying to work his way back, then signing with the Cubs after being non-tendered following the season. So at that point in May, not even months into the season, all that remained of Seattle’s intended starting rotation – one that had considerable experience at every spot – was original No. 5 man Yovani Gallardo.

And that’s how Ryan Weber found himself on the mound in a Mariners uniform for the briefest of outings that would end in a nerve injury only seen once before in baseball. Weber was just one of not only an MLB-record-tying 40 pitchers – well, technically 38 pitchers, one catcher and one utility player – used by the Mariners on the mound in 2017, but also one of a club-record 17 starters for Seattle.

The pitching injuries in 2017 were catastrophic, and the injuries to position players were considerable as well. There were trips to the disabled list for both Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger. Robinson Cano made his first trip to the DL in over a decade. Jarrod Dyson saw his season come to an end Aug. 19 as he could no longer play with a sports hernia.

When all was said and done, there were 22 DL moves by the Mariners, amounting to a total of 1,117 games missed – and that doesn’t even count the handful of games that Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager missed with nagging issues. The 61 players used by the Mariners in 2017 demolished the previous club record of 54 and was the second-most ever used by a team in a single season in MLB history.

And yet those who could make it back to the field fought month after month, and the Mariners managed to stay in reach of a wild card spot until early September. With the competition starting to gear up at that point it seemed the losses to the roster were too significant, and the team perhaps weary from the season-long roller coaster ride.

While some injuries are just plain bad luck, the Mariners have tackled the issue head-on, establishing a High Performance department that is headed by Dr. Lorena Martin, formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers. The intent is to better define the things that can be controlled for each individual and how they achieve peak performance.

Injuries were costly for the Mariners 2017, and they are leaving little to chance going forward.

A closer look at the Mariners’ 2017 season

When M’s get back to full-strength, will it be too late?

Cano, Cruz banged up but pressing on

Dipoto: Pitching depth Mariners’ No. 1 need at midseason

Mariners hoping to outslug struggling rotation with Yonder Alonso trade

Servais on James Paxton’s injury: ‘We’ll take the challenge’

Kyle Seager loses weight from stomach bug

Mariners get jump on offseason with addition of Mike Leake

Dipoto preparing Mariners for new approach to pitching staff in 2018

Scott Servais ready to find solution to what held back Mariners

Drayer: Mariners not taking injury-plagued season lying down