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'His opportunity is now.' Jake Fraley out to prove he's ready for everyday role with Mariners

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 7/15/2020 By Lauren Smith, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Jake Fraley knows his opportunity to prove he can be an everyday contributor at the big league level for the Seattle Mariners is now.

The 25-year-old spent much of last season ripping his way through the Mariners minor league system before his late August promotion.

Seattle wanted to get a good look at the left-handed outfielder, but he was shut down 12 games into his call-up with a thumb injury after logging just 41 plate appearances — in which he recorded six hits and 14 strikeouts.

The club’s No. 9 prospect, Fraley was expected to make the Opening Day roster out of spring training — he hit .231/.300/.538 with two doubles, two homers and four RBI in 10 appearances before Cactus League games were called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and Mitch Haniger’s ongoing injury issues meant Fraley could be looking at a regular starting job in Seattle’s outfield.

Fraley considered all of that during the three-month Major League Baseball shutdown.

He, his wife and their two young children stayed in Arizona, minutes away from the Mariners’ complex in Peoria, and when it was open, Fraley got cage work in, and took swings against some of Seattle’s up-and-coming pitchers.

When the shortened 60-game season was announced amid the pandemic, Fraley didn’t hesitate to report to camp at T-Mobile Park.

“There’s obviously been a handful of guys that have opted out, and everybody respects that decision,” he said during a video call with reporters Tuesday. “It’s obviously a very tough situation.

“Obviously everybody wants to go out there and play. We all missed the game so much as we were going through all of those tough times when all of this started.”

For Fraley, who is still trying to establish himself as a major leaguer, the decision to play was clear.

“I’m a young guy,” he said. “I’m trying to make a name for myself in this league. The ability for me to do that is to be on the field. That’s not going to happen when I’m sitting on the couch at home. … For me, it wasn’t a tough decision. I want to be out there.”

He and his family made an arrangement to live in a house in a spacious neighborhood in Kirkland, he said, and the health and safety protocols the league and the Mariners have set up have given him peace of mind.

“Getting here and really going through the routine, it’s been awesome to be able to see the protocols and the things MLB has put in place, as well as the Mariners honoring those protocols and doing those every day,” he said. “It takes a lot of that pressure off of us since I’ve been here. … That decision (to play) that was obviously very scary, a thing that obviously none of us are used to coming into this has turned into a lot more peace as we’ve gone through all this.

“To me, it’s been a blessing of a decision that I’ve made, because I’m here, I’m playing, everything’s been going according to plan, and hopefully it continues to do that as we get into these 60 games.”

The new protocols are a lot to get used to, but Fraley and his teammates are adjusting, and he said they’re just glad to be on the field.

“It’s just kind of taking it day by day,” he said. “That’s the best advice that I’ve been given and have been giving out to the guys as we talk about all of this, going through it all, is just take it day by day and just be grateful that we’re able to be out here.”

Fraley had appeared in four of Seattle’s five intrasquad games entering Wednesday, with two hits in his 11 at-bats. He said timing at the plate is one of the last things to come back as the Mariners get back into the routine of playing daily, and he has to be patient with his swing.

Mariners manager Scott Servais said during his Wednesday morning video call with reporters Fraley is planning to get some extra work in this week with Seattle’s hitting coaches.

“I think Jake understands where he’s at in his development, in his opportunity,” Servais said. “His opportunity is now. We want to give him every chance to go out and show us what he can do on the major league stage every day, but we want to make sure he’s in a good spot and swinging at the right pitches, handling balls in different parts of the strike zone.

“It’s going to happen. There’s not one team I’ve ever been on when all of the guys are going well at the plate. Somebody’s always trying to find it or figure it out, so that’s where Jake’s at right now. I’m not concerned at all about him. … He’s doing what he needs to do in this camp, he just wants to get that bat going.”

HIRANO PLACED ON IL

Veteran reliever Yoshihisa Hirano, the only player in the 60-man player pool not seen at camp since it opened July 3, was placed on the injured list Tuesday evening.

The Mariners did not clarify whether he will be placed on the 10- or 45-day IL, and no injury designation was listed.

The Japan Times reported Tuesday that the 36-year-old confirmed he tested positive for COVID-19 before summer camp opened. After testing positive, players must receive two consecutive negative test results before they can begin the process of being admitted to the ballpark for workouts.

Per Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and league policies, the Mariners cannot comment on test results, and players must either address results themselves or give teams permission to discuss the situation.

Hirano signed a one-year, $1.6 million contract with the Mariners in January, and was expected to be a key back end reliever for the club. He spent the past two seasons with the Diamondbacks, compiling a 3.47 ERA in 137 relief appearances. He pitched in five Cactus League games for Seattle this spring, before camps were shut down, allowing three runs on five hits and two walks while striking out three in five innings.

“Hopefully we can get him back as soon as possible,” Servais said. “I know that was a guy we were really counting on, certainly later in games. He’s got a ton of experience, which I thought was really valuable for our crew — for our bullpen and for our whole team — putting a guy out there that has done it before.

“He’s closed games, he can pitch in high-leverage spots, so we’re going to miss him. Hopefully when he gets in and up and going we can build up that arm strength as quick as possible, because we really do need him.”

SHORT HOPS

Late camp arrivals Mallex Smith and Dylan Moore participated in live batting practice Tuesday morning, and Servais was pleased with their progress. “Give them credit,” he said. “I know they didn’t do much here the last 10 days, two weeks sitting in their hotel rooms, but they look really good so far.” Smith and Moore could get at-bats in Thursday afternoon’s intrasquad game, and are scheduled to participate fully Saturday, following Friday’s off day. … The Mariners plan to carry 17 pitchers on their 30-man roster when the regular season begins July 24, Servais said Monday, as starters continue to build up their pitch limits, and will look at multiple relievers who can give them more than one inning of work from the outset.

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©2020 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

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