Justin Upton joins Mariners

SEATTLE – The Mariners are looking for just about any offensive spark they can find right now, and on Friday, they turned to one of the game’s longest-tenured active veterans to help fill that void.

Unfortunately for the club and Justin Upton, he departed in the fifth inning after taking a 90.6 mph sinker off his helmet, but he was able to walk off the field under his own strength. Video replay showed that the pitch from the Angels’ Michael Lorenzen hit Upton in the temple area of ​​his helmet but that most, if not all, of the contact was absorbed by the helmet. But he was nonetheless hit squarely.

Upton cleared concussion protocols postgame, and if all goes well, he could return as soon as Saturday’s doubleheader, which he’d like DH for.

“He was conscious, talking the whole time. … He got smoked, ”Mariners manager Scott Servais said after the club’s 8-1 win. “That’s about as hard as you can get hit with a two-seam fastball. I don’t think it was on purpose or anything like that. He was just trying to get the ball in on him and it got away from him. ”

The club recalled the 34-year-old Upton from Triple-A Tacoma nearly four weeks after it signed him to a Major League contract, on May 22. He started in left field and batted sixth against the Angels, the team that designated him for assignment on April 2, near the end of Spring Training, with one year and $ 28 million still owed on his contract.

Upton is expected to contribute regularly in the corner outfield spots and at DH, though he probably won’t play every day.

“He’ll play quite a bit,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’ll mix in some DH. You’ll see him in the corner outfield spots and we’ll continue to communicate with him. I’m not going to run him out there for 10 games in a row unless he hits 10 home runs in those 10 days. That might be different. But again, we’ll give him an opportunity to kind of work his way in, and hopefully he can help out offensively in the middle of our lineup. ”

Upton hit .200 / .289 / .378 with two homers and two doubles in 12 games at Tacoma, a slash line that doesn’t exactly paint the picture of an offensive savior. He said there was an adjustment period between going back to live pitching in professional games after spending roughly six weeks exclusively training after he was released by the Angels on April 8.

“It started out really slow for me, just not seeing pitches for that long,” Upton said. “But everything starts to get a little more clear the more pitches you see, so I think I got quite a few at-bats down there and got pretty comfortable.”

For a team that has been hamstrung by its offense this season, the Mariners are hoping that Upton can recreate some semblance of his past success at the plate. Upton crushed 17 homers last season, but he also hit .211 with a .296 on-base percentage and 29.6 percent strikeout rate.

Seattle has slashed .234 / .318 / .380 this year, ranking in the middle or lower of the pack in most offensive categories. As its on-base percentage indicates, the lineup has been able to put runners on – but its issues have been driving them in.

Of the times that Seattle has reached third base with less than two outs, that runner has scored just 45 percent of the time, tied for the second-lowest rate in baseball. The club’s hope is that inserting Upton into the lower half will add some pop. Upton ranked in the 79th percentile last year in barreling balls up, per Statcast.

“I was playing pretty frequently down there [at Tacoma], ”Upton said. “I think we were switching back and forth between outfield and DH down there, and so I think I’ve only played back-to-back in the outfield once, but it didn’t affect me. And so, whatever the workload is, I think I’m prepared. ”

As for his glove, Upton’s minus-6 outs above average last year aren’t an upgrade from Jesse Winker, who has been worth minus-4 in 2022. Upton has spent the majority of his career in left, and Taylor Trammell’s arm is better. suited for right, where he’s been worth plus-1 OAA.

Trammell’s playing time could be impacted further, though, especially given that Servais has not been reluctant to pinch-hit for the left-handed-hitting slugger late in games based on matchups. Utilityman Dylan Moore should still work into the corner outfield rotation, too.

“Taylor will still play, there’s no question about it,” Servais said. “When there’s a right-handed starter, I want to keep Taylor in there. I think he’s done some really positive things when he’s been in there. But it’ll also allow us to do some different things platoon-wise. The DH spot, Upton will take some of those. Winker will get some more DH [opportunities], things like that. So we’ll just kind of continue to mix the guys around based on who we’re facing that night. “

The eventual return of Jarred Kelenic will also impact Upton and the Mariners’ outfield rotation, too, though that’s not expected in the immediate future. Kelenic returned to Tacoma’s lineup on Thursday after missing three games with a hamstring issue, and the Mariners have maintained that they want to see less swing and miss in his game.

So, it’ll be Upton seeing a chunk of playing time in the immediate. The No. 1 overall Draft pick in 2005, Upton entered Friday with 14 years and 60 days of Major League service time, the seventh most among active players.

In a corresponding roster move, utility man Sam Haggerty was optioned to Tacoma.


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