Mariners’ Mitch Haniger ready to put 600 days out of action behind him
The answer that stood out the most from Mitch Haniger’s press conference that was streamed on social media platforms as part of the Mariners Virtual Baseball Blast came not from a question by a reporter, but one by a fan.
Tyler on YouTube asked what Haniger’s biggest challenge during rehab was, and the Mariners right fielder almost by rote recited what you expect to hear from someone who have missed significant time – teammates, not being able to play the game he loves, being away so long. Then his answer went in a different direction.
“Early on after surgery you feel like you are never going to feel normal again and never going to get back to where you were,” he said, “but with every surgery I have had, when you put in time over and over and over, you will get back there. And if you just believe, it will make you better from it. You become better from the surgeries. Tough times don’t last but tough people do.”
The words came almost as an affirmation and, unfortunately, from much experience. There’s no doubt Haniger would rather his improvement and development come from work unassociated with rehab, rather in the cages or experience in games, but over the past four years he has had to find a good deal of it in coming back from injury. From an oblique strain and getting hit in the face with a 95 mph Jacob deGrom fastball in 2017 to the ruptured testicle that ended his season in 2019 and led to a torn adductor and herniation of a disc in his lower back that kept him out of action in 2020, Haniger has been forced to learn a thing or three about rehab.
“Every surgery sucks,” he said. “They’re never fun, it’s never something you want to go through but I think I am better having gone through it. Getting both problems fixed only is going to set me up for more success and I feel better than ever now. That’s how I choose to look at it. Injuries can derail your career but at the same time I think you can come back stronger from them if you put in the time and learn your body better and understand why those things happen. I think I’ve had a good handle on those things and am excited to get back out there.”
In the smallest of silver linings, Haniger has had a fervent interest in all aspects of high performance. His preparation goes well beyond the weight room and hitting cages. Offseasons have been spent at performance centers, diets have been followed, meditations learned, sleep science explored, and of course work put in on the mental side as well. Some of the work he has put in coming out of the most recent round of surgeries that have kept him off a big league field for exactly 600 days as of Thursday has been, in a word, unique.
View this post on Instagram
This work has been the fun part of his return and follows months of rehab, much of it done in Seattle during last season but away from the team as he was not on the roster. As he once again approached “normal” Haniger after the season, he was able to work with Austin Einhorn, the founder of Apiros, a performance center in Santa Cruz, Calif. Einhorn’s philosophy resonated with the 2018 All-Star.
“Austin has a a really unique lens he looks through,” he said. “There are certain things in our body that will devolve if our environment doesn’t ask for them. He’s really big on climbing, swinging, hanging because as we evolved our shoulders were meant to hang, climb and swing, and if your environment doesn’t ask for those things, your shoulder might not be as strong as it could be if you were doing those things. Those are some things I have incorporated that have been a big help especially with the climbing, how much core strength it requires. I had no idea. It’s been fun to mix those things in. We do some things that for lack of a better word are a little crazy but definitely not unsafe by any means, and it has been fun.”
Haniger also continues to work out at Sparta Science, where he lifts and utilizes force plates. This work has helped him regain the 20-ish pounds of mostly muscle weight he lost after the surgeries. As for baseball work, coming off the core injury he was careful, spending an entire month on a strict tee regimen before taking flips. He is now in his regular offseason hitting routine and recently spent time with Mariners assistant hitting coach Jarret deHart.
“My swing has never felt this good in an offseason before and I think a lot of that is because I have never moved this way before,” he said. “I get into positions than I haven’t been able to in the past and I think my body is moving better than I ever have.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais said earlier this week that they will be careful in how they ramp Haniger up in spring training after missing over a season and a half, saying the most important thing would be to listen to Mitch and what he needs. For his part, Haniger doesn’t believe it will take much to get back in the swing of things.
“I think a lot of rust can be eliminated by training hard, working in the cage and making your training environment very challenging, and that’s what I have done all offseason,” he said.
The Mariners’ clubhouse Haniger walks into will be a very different one. While he was around enough at the end of 2019 and spring training 2020 to know the faces, there are few he has played alongside. He will be one of the few veterans on the team, one of just three players Seattle has kept throughout the rebuild to provide leadership and example. By all appearances he is ready to take on that role.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “It’s funny, it seems like every year I show up to spring training and there’s roster change and a bunch of new guys to meet. At least I will know a good amount this year coming back in. We are looking forward to going out and trying to win a World Series, I think. That hopefully is the goal of every guy in the clubhouse.”
More from Shannon: Plenty of reasons why Chris Flexen caught M’s eye