Tim Lopes took a long and winding path to his first major league hit.
He was promoted by the Seattle Mariners from Triple-A two weeks ago and made a relatively quiet debut as a late-game defensive replacement against the Rangers.
The next night against Detroit, Lopes made his first career start and had three plate appearances — he walked in the first, was hit between the ear and shoulder on his left side by a fastball in the second, and grounded out to shortstop in the third — before he was removed.
Lopes spent the next 11 days on the concussion list, and was finally cleared to play ahead of Tuesday night’s series opener against the Padres. He wasn’t in the starting lineup, though he was encouraged earlier in the day to start brushing up his outfield skills in the wake of Tim Beckham’s 80-game suspension. He spent the first seven innings watching from afar, but entered the game in the eighth, replacing Daniel Vogelbach, who was ejected.
“I was just hitting in the cage shortly before, and saw what happened, and had a feeling that my number might be called,” Lopes said. “I just ran into the dugout and sure enough they put me in the game.”
What happened next was a satisfying exclamation point on an eventful two weeks for Seattle’s rookie infielder. With the Mariners trailing in another lopsided loss, Lopes stepped into the box for the first time at T-Mobile Park since leaving that game against the Tigers, and cranked Adrian Morejon’s second pitch deep into the beer garden in center field for a two-run home run.
It was the first homer, and first hit, of Lopes’ young major league career, and it sent an otherwise docile crowd into a frenzy.
“It’s a struggle to get through the minor leagues, especially when you sign as a young player like he did,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It’s a big thrill for him. The guys in the dugout realize it, too. Certainly hitting your first homer with your first hit, it’s special for him.”
After rounding the bases, Lopes was greeted by a celebration that extended into the dugout. The crowd rose to its feet, and after a few moments, Lopes climbed back up the steps and tipped his helmet.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Lopes said. “Tim Laker, the hitting coach, he was the one that actually grabbed me and said, ‘Hey, get out there.’ And I’m like, ‘OK.’ I’d never done it before, and kind of didn’t know what to do. But, yeah, it just kind of happened, which was definitely a really cool moment for me.”
The relievers sitting in the bullpen made sure to get the home run ball. While Lopes said working back from sustaining a concussion in just his second game was difficult mentally, he couldn’t have imagined a better payoff in his return.
“I’m just trying to put what happened earlier in the rear-view mirror a little bit, but that was definitely worth it, definitely something I wouldn’t trade for the world,” he said. “I’m just happy to be back with the team, and happy to be around all of the guys in the clubhouse again, and just excited for the moment.”
Following Beckham’s suspension, Lopes, Dylan Moore and Ryan Court are the most likely to platoon in left field as the Mariners await the returns of Mitch Haniger and Braden Bishop.
Including Lopes’ start in left Wednesday, the three rookies have a combined 26 games of experience at the major-league level at the position. They have a combined 61 games of experience at the position in the minors. Moore has the most appearances in left with the Mariners at 22 this season, while Court played 48 games in left in the minors.
For Lopes, the position is new — Wednesday marked just his third appearance in left in his entire professional career.
“They just told me that I needed to start working in the outfield, which is something I’m very open to, something I definitely want to add to my game, and something they believe I can do,” Lopes said. “So I’m definitely happy to do that.”
There is no specific timetable for Haniger and Bishop to return, but it should be in the next couple of weeks. Each have been participating in team workouts, and could go out on a rehab assignment during Seattle’s next road trip.
“Anxious to get those guys back,” Servais said. “We’ve kind of had a revolving door in left field, and moving guys around in the outfield, so it will be nice to get some more outfielders back.”
HEALY HAS SURGERY
Mariners infielder Ryon Healy, who hasn’t played a game since May, and has consistently struggled with lower back and hip issues in the months since, had season-ending surgery on his right hip Tuesday.
In an Instagram post Wednesday morning, the 27-year-old said the procedure, which was performed at Stanford University, was successful, and vowed to make his way back to the baseball field.
“What a roller coaster this season has been,” Healy wrote. “This game continues to find ways to challenge you whether you’re on or off the field. Yesterday I underwent successful right hip surgery. Can’t thank the doctors enough for everything they’ve done for me.
“This has been a long process, but I’m finally feeling like I’m on the mend. Ready to tackle this rehab and comeback stronger than before.”
Healy is on a one-year contract with the Mariners after re-signing with the club in March. His recovery time is expected to be four to six months.
CAN YOU NAME THE RELIEVERS?
The Mariners are carrying nine active relievers in their bullpen right now. Only two of them — Brandon Brennan and Cory Gearrin — started the season with the big-league club.
Rookie Erik Swanson has been up and down with the Mariners this season since his MLB debut in April — and used sometimes as a starter or opener, and sometimes as a reliever. Anthony Bass signed as a free agent with Seattle in May.
Matt Wisler was designated for assignment by the Padres in June, and then traded to the Mariners. The same happened when Matt Magill was designated for assignment by the Twins in July. Sam Tuivailala, after an 11-month stay on the injured list, finally returned to the bullpen in July.
And rookies Zac Grotz (promoted from Double-A Arkansas) and Reggie McClain (Triple-A Tacoma) each made their MLB debuts with the Mariners last week in Houston.
Each of them fit into the ever-growing group of relievers the Mariners have auditioned this year. Not including starting pitchers who follow an opener, or position players who have taken the mound in blowouts, Seattle has used 31 true relievers.
“We’re sorting right now,” Servais joked pregame Wednesday. “We’re panning for gold. … We’ll just keep giving guys chances in different roles.”