Seattle Mariners

Mariners rookie Braden Bishop details the mental, physical challenges of returning from a serious injury

Braden Bishop knew his body would physically recover. He has regained weight he lost, has been fully participating in daily workouts with the Seattle Mariners, and is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with one of Seattle’s minor-league affiliates this week.

But, beyond just being physically ready to play in games again after being sidelined for more than two months with a lacerated spleen, the rookie outfielder said he’s also had to work to return to a good mental space after enduring an injury as rare and unsettling as this.

“It’s obviously been one heck of a journey,” Bishop said. “But, I feel good physically. I think the biggest part was the mental piece. I knew my body would respond because medical tests say, ‘Hey, you’re healed.’ I knew that part.

“It was going to be the mental hump. How would I respond to that? I knew it was going to bring a certain sense of anxiety, just with going through something so traumatic. But, I’m kind of starting to get through that.”

The 25-year-old was placed on the injured list June 5, three days after he was promoted for the second time this season from Triple-A Tacoma. He was pulled out four innings into his second game after telling coaches he felt his trapezius lock up while catching a fly ball in center field.

Following that game, Bishop sat at his locker feeling confused and uneasy about such a strange injury. Trainers weren’t sure what caused the sensation. He saw a doctor the next morning, and was immediately sent to Harborview Medical Center.

The injury was later connected to a pitch Bishop took in the ribs when he was still with the Rainiers.

“The look on (the doctor’s) face told me it wasn’t something small,” Bishop said back in June, when he returned to Seattle’s clubhouse. “We actually wound up walking five blocks to the Harborview ER and they did a CT, and they found there was a torn blood vessel in my spleen.

“Basically all within two-and-a-half hours I was going in for a procedure to glue it shut, stop the bleeding. It was really scary.”

When Bishop was released from the hospital, and started to think about baseball again, he knew he would have to talk to people to help alleviate some of the mental stress the injury caused. He said peak performance coach Jimmy VanOstrand “has been huge” and family and teammates have also provided appreciated support.

“I don’t want it to happen again,” Bishop said. “So, to be able to communicate those feelings was important, and I think it helped a lot.”

He still thinks about the injury, he said, but increased activity, returning to routine on the baseball field and adding some protective gear has helped.

“I faced Dan Altavilla (Thursday in a simulated game),” Bishop said. “I think that’s the first time I’ve had something hard coming at me again. I’ve added extra padding. It’s like a wide receiver’s rib protector — just to give me some extra padding if that provides any sort of comfort.

“I know once you get a couple (at-bats) in, you just go, ‘Oh, the chance it happens again is so slim. … That it happened in the first place (is rare).’ I’ve been hit in the ribs before, hit in the forearm and the elbow, and everywhere.”

He recognizes the inevitability of being hit with a pitch again at some point, but said the added padding gives him relief that something so severe shouldn’t happen again. And, that mental solace has allowed him to continue to progress physically.

“I would say I made really good strides over the past two weeks, and then just this last week with being able to base run again, and getting into BP definitely helped in terms of physically grounding myself,” Bishop said. “Knowing that I can be in a game now, and be fine, and kind of get up to speed. I’m just excited to get back out there.”

The Mariners, who have been playing with two true outfielders for several weeks — and some days one — will be just as excited to get Bishop back. With Mitch Haniger (ruptured testicle) also out for an extended period — he was placed on the IL two days after Bishop, and is also expected to begin a rehab assignment Tuesday with Single-A Modesto — and Domingo Santana (sore elbow) exclusively playing as a designated hitter until his minor injury clears up, Seattle has used a collection of infielders to flank Mallex Smith and recent acquisition Keon Broxton in the outfield.

“Anxious to get those guys back,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We’ve kind of had a revolving door in left field, and (have been) moving guys around the outfield, so it will be nice to get some outfielders back.”

Perhaps especially Bishop, the club’s No. 14 prospect, who showed promise with the big-league club throughout spring training. Had he stayed healthy, Bishop likely would have seen regular playing time in the outfield. He’s not one to dwell on what could have been, Servais said.

“Timing is everything,” Servais said. “I’ve said it often. You need to be in the right place at the right time, or be lucky enough to stay healthy and take advantage of an opportunity. I’ve often felt things happen for a reason. Braden’s gone through a lot to even get here, and he’s not one of these guys with his head down.

“He’s not Eeyore. He just doesn’t take it that way. He’s very upbeat. He’s gone through a lot in his life. He’s like, ‘Hey man, I’ll get back out there, I’ll get my chance and I’ll take advantage of it.’ I commend that attitude, because some guys wouldn’t (be like that). They’d be like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is getting away from me’ — the 50 games, or 30, or whatever he could have played.

“(Braden) doesn’t really look at it that way. I’m anxious to see what he looks like when he gets back.”

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.