Shortstop Ketel Marte walked through the Mariners’ clubhouse a few days back eating a vanilla ice cream cone. It served as a reminder that it’s only been six weeks since he returned from a nasty bout with mononucleosis.
Marte lost 22 pounds from a slender frame and nearly all his strength and stamina in what seemed a matter of hours. It’s been a slow rebuild ever since.
"When you lose 22 pounds, especially for me, a skinny guy," he said, "it’s not easy. But not just me. Anybody. If you lose 22 pounds, it’s not that easy. It takes time. You just progress. You eat, but you still feel like your energy level is down."
Not surprisingly, it affected his play. Even when he was judged ready to return in early August, Marte had just two singles in his first 28 at-bats and only one extra-base hit in his first 58 plate appearances.
"You could tell he was still recovering," manager Scott Servais said. "His strength was still down. He couldn’t drive the ball. But it’s gotten better."
Marte batted .307 with a .333 on-base percentage over a 25-game stretch from Aug. 19 to Sept. 14. Everything seemed back to normal.
"I feel really good," he said. "I’ve got all of weight back except for two pounds. So I don’t think about (the mononucleosis). That (stuff) happened but, now, I feel normal."
Even so, club officials look at Marte’s current 0-for-17 skid and wonder whether they’re seeing a normal cyclical downswing in a long season, a lingering effect from mononucleosis (a not-unusual occurrence)…
Or do Marte’s struggles stem from being confronted for the first time by the relentless daily grind of a postseason chase? Perhaps all three. The in-house evaluation is ongoing but early returns appear mixed.
The Mariners can live with Marte’s .260 average, but his .289 on-base percentage is an anathema to their control-the-zone philosophy.
While Marte provides an older lineup with some much-needed athleticism, his 19 errors rank second among American League shortstops — Oakland’s Marcus Semien has 20 in 38 more games — and he grades out at minus-5 in runs saved.
How much the mononucleosis plays into this is hard to gauge, but the Mariners seemed to reveal their thinking by making a serious effort to acquire shortstop Zack Cozart from Cincinnati prior to the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline.
A tentative deal fell apart when the Reds ran out of time in reviewing medical reports on acquisition targets.
Talks are likely to resume in the off-season because the Mariners’ interest in Cozart remains undiminished, and the Reds are in a rebuilding effort with top-prospect Jose Peraza already lined up as a replacement.
Cozart, 31, has one season remaining before gaining free-agent eligibility. While in line for a raise from his current $2.93 million salary, he still fits easily within the Mariners’ payroll structure.
Right-hander Taijuan Walker continues to sport a bruise on his left biceps but dismissed concerns regarding renewed problems with his right foot.
Walker lost his footing twice in fielding swinging bunts Monday against the Blue Jays, which raised concerns regarding the tendinitis that bothered him for several starts before sidelining him for most of July.
The bruise resulted from a line drive by Edward Encarnacion in the first inning of Monday’s game. The ball deflected off Walker’s arm and into the outfield for a single.
Walker is scheduled to start Sunday in the series finale at Minnesota.
It was 12 years ago Thursday — Sept. 22, 2004 — that Raul Ibanez became the only player in franchise history to get six hits in a game. They were all singles and came in a 16-6 victory at Anaheim.
Ibanez’s first three hits came against Bartolo Colon who, now 43, is still active and pitching for the New York Mets.
Major League Baseball granted an appeal by the Astros on a scoring decision from Sept. 16, which takes an error away from third baseman Kyle Seager and now awards a single to Jose Altuve. The hit was charged to Felix Hernandez, but the play did not result in any subsequent scoring.
The Mariners have an open date Thursday before starting their final trip of the season this weekend with three games at Minnesota.
Lefty James Paxton (4-7 with a 3.88 ERA) will face Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson (6-10, 5.10) at 5:10 p.m. Pacific time Friday in the series opener at Target Field in Minneapolis.
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on the Mariners Radio Network, which includes 710 ESPN.
The Mariners conclude their six-game trip next week with three games at Houston before returning to Safeco Field to end the regular season with four games against Oakland.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners