What Mariners GM Dipoto is seeing from Mitch Haniger, Ty France

Aug 18, 2022, 11:03 AM | Updated: 2:37 pm

Mariners Mitch Haniger...

Mitch Haniger hits an RBI single for the Mariners against the Angels on Wednesday. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

The Mariners are feeling good as they hit their day off Thursday, coming off a sweep of the Angels over three games in Anaheim and sitting 1.5 games up for the first wild card spot in the American League with a 65-54 record, the first time this season they’ve been 11 games over .500.

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While the team gets the day to rest, the general manager was up early for The Jerry Dipoto Show at 8:30 a.m. on Seattle Sports, and he had plenty to say. We’ll have several posts on detailing his insights from his most recent weekly conversation with Mike Salk, and we’ll start with what he said about a couple key members of the Mariners’ lineup.

First up is a slugger who recently made his long-awaited return to the team.

“As good a version of Mitch as we’ve ever seen”

Mitch Haniger rejoined the M’s on Aug. 6 after missing over three months of action with a high-ankle sprain, and Seattle is clearly happy to have him back. In 11 games this month, the 31-year-old right fielder owns a .357/.438/.452 slash line for an .890 OPS with a home run, a double, and six walks to 10 strikeouts.

What does Dipoto see with Haniger right now?

“Probably as good a version of Mitch as we’ve ever seen,” he said. “I thought 2018 Mitch, last year’s Mitch, and we saw stretches of it in 2017 when he first joined the Mariners, he was clicking on all his tools. I’ll say what he’s doing right now is on par with anything he’s ever done as a Mariner, and (it’s) fascinating in how focused he is.”

Haniger has struggled to stay on the field in his time with Seattle, and it seems he’s been the victim of bad luck rather than someone who could be classified as injury prone with most of his issues not being the result of soft-tissue injuries. Whatever the case, Dipoto’s comments indicated that Haniger is taking his availability seriously after missing 99 of the Mariners’ first 108 games this year.

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“His level of preparedness to play is off the charts good, and I think that has been a benefit to this team,” Dipoto said. “Now that he is healthy and back and doing the things that Mitch does on and off the field, he is what I would call a great example player. You go watch the way Mitch prepares and it’s a textbook for how you should go about your job.”

The offensive production from Haniger, meanwhile, has a secondary effect that is just as important for Seattle.

“For him to be back producing the way he is is exciting for us, and really it’s what allowed our lineup to get deep again,” Dipoto said. “Now, instead of being forced to hit in the middle of the lineup, J.P. (Crawford) is actually able to hit closer to the bottom, where he’s a real asset. Being able to allow Cal Raleigh to hit in that seven, eight hole because the lineup is deep enough to be able to put a 20-homer hitter down there, that’s a rarity, really – in Mariners baseball history but certainly in the game today – to have that kind of versatility, power and on-base up and down the lineup. And Mitch was the kingpin in making sure we could get back to that.”

Ty France’s uncharacteristic slump

Seattle’s All-Star first baseman is known for his consistency at the plate, but Ty France has been mired in a funk at the plate following his return from the injured list on July 7, slashing just .219/.282/.361 for a .644 OPS in the 29 games since. That has led to speculation that he is still having trouble with either a wrist injury that has bothered him off and on since last year or the elbow injury that resulted in that recent IL stint. Whether or not that’s the case, Dipoto can see one thing that is uncharacteristic for France that isn’t helping.

“Ty’s a tough guy. Obviously, he had an injury and it was a significant issue that he experienced in Oakland (when he suffered the elbow injury),” Dipoto said. “He’s gone through every checkpoint in his recovery, doesn’t seem to have any pain, he has not been on medical reports, he’s just getting his normal treatment and he shows up, and Ty is the consummate grinder. But, you know, he’s been in a slump. Ty is such a good hitter that we’ve rarely have seen him go through any type of extended slump, and I don’t suspect it’ll last forever.

“The biggest thing for me with Ty is I can’t really say much to his health because I’m sure it bothers him more than he lets on – he’s just that kind of guy and goes out there and plays through it, which is part of being a grinder, a team player. But what he’s doing right now is just not swinging at the same good pitches that he typically swings at. We’re seeing him chase a lot more and oftentimes just chasing that hit. And when he gets back to tightening up his strike zone and swinging at the strikes, he’ll turn back into the hitter that he’s always been in his life, really.”

France received the day off Wednesday, and just before that on Tuesday night he had a very characteristic (and important) two-run single to right field that tied the game for Seattle on its way to an 8-2 win over the Angels, so the M’s surely hope the slump is nearing its end.

To hear the full Jerry Dipoto Show, find the podcast here or in the player below.

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