Meet the 2019 Seattle Mariners. Do you even know who they are?
Shed Long hasn’t played much baseball the past two months — he’s been on Triple-A Tacoma’s injured list for all but five games since the first week of July — but he will get an opportunity to make up for lost time.
The 24-year-old rookie infielder, who spent two short stints with the Seattle Mariners earlier this spring, has been recalled again to spend this final month with the big-league club.
“It means a ton to me,” Long said by phone Tuesday, as he headed to join the Mariners on the road at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. “There were moments I just didn’t know if I would make it back. I didn’t know how long it would be.
“So to be back playing and on the field every night, it’s just a big relief. Once I step on the field, it’s like I’m in my safe place. To have that taken away from you, it hurts for a little while. Coming back, it makes you appreciate the game more for sure.”
Long is considered Seattle’s No. 15 prospect by MLB Pipeline and is a candidate to eventually take over the club’s everyday role at second base when this rebuild is complete. He first appeared with the Mariners in May, making his debut on the road in Boston.
In 19 games with Seattle across two stints in May and June, he hit .232/.329/.377 with seven doubles, one homer, five RBIs, 10 walks and three stolen bases. He was most recently optioned back to the Rainiers midway through June when shortstop J.P. Crawford returned from an ankle sprain.
Long played the following two weeks with Tacoma before he landed on the IL for eight days with inflammation in his left shoulder.
“I was playing third one night in Tacoma, and there was a ball hit in the hole that I dove for,” Long said. “It was wet that night, so when I dove, I just stuck instead of sliding across the dirt. My body kind of scorpioned, and I landed with all of my weight on my shoulder.”
The shoulder was sore, he said, and he received treatment, but ultimately it recovered fine. He missed a handful of games that week but considered it a minor setback.
Then, four innings into his first game back from the IL, Long broke the middle finger on his throwing hand, resulting in the longest IL stay of his professional career.
“Crazy,” Long said. “It was a double play (attempt). It was a throw that was down, so I went down to get it. Usually on a ball down I go down with two hands and just throw from down low, turning the double play.
“I was just trying to be a little too quick and stuck my hand in a little early and the ball squared up my middle finger and it broke.”
He still caught the ball for the first out of the inning, but couldn’t turn the double play. He said he knew immediately “something was wrong” but didn’t leave the game until the following inning.
“I didn’t want to face the fact,” Long said. “I was just like, ‘A few days, and I’ll be back. No worries.’”
X-rays confirmed the finger was broken, and knowing the recovery could take months, Seattle’s organization sent Long to their Arizona complex to begin his rehab.
“Honestly, there were times I was depressed, wasn’t getting any sleep, just because I wanted to play so bad,” Long said. “That’s what I love to do. I was just up thinking about it constantly. ‘How long is this going to take, trying to get my finger right?’
“I was getting impatient. But, I settled down after a while and realized I’ve got to get better (while rehabbing the injury). Everybody else is continuing to get better, so I’ve got to get better, too.”
Long did a lot of top-hand drills while in Arizona, since he couldn’t use his throwing hand, and a lot of glove drills. He focused on running and lifting.
“Just doing what I could to stay in shape and get better every day,” he said.
Rainiers manager Daren Brown said recently it was tough to see Long miss such an extended stretch, considering he might have been the first call the Mariners made when second baseman Dee Gordon was out for two-plus weeks between July and August with a quad strain.
Rookie infielder Tim Lopes was promoted from Triple-A in place of Gordon, and when he ended up on the concussion list days after his debut, the Mariners promoted rookie Ryan Court.
Meanwhile, Long was still in the thick of his own rehab, far away from where the Mariners were.
“He’s had a couple of opportunities, and I’m sure if he was healthy, he’d have probably had another one at some point,” Brown said of Long. “It’s always tough because I thought he was figuring some things out at the plate and doing a nice job for us defensively.
“Any time you have missed time with a young player, we’re not moving forward, we’re kind of moving backwards, but that’s just the way it is when you have injuries.”
Long tried not to put too much weight on missing an opportunity with the Mariners when Gordon was temporarily shut down.
“I mean, playing second base, yeah, I thought about it,” Long said. “But, it was something that was out of my control. Injuries are a part of the game. I couldn’t dwell on it. The thing I was so mad about was just not being able to play.”
He rejoined Tacoma again Friday, playing in the club’s final four games of the season in Las Vegas over the weekend, and logged four hits, including a homer.
There was some speculation Long might get a few more minor league games in with Double-A Arkansas, which opens the Texas League playoffs Wednesday, but he instead boarded a flight to Chicago late Monday night. He said he’s hoping for quality reps this final month, to learn as much as he can and compete.
“It’s very exciting,” Long said. “It was a long journey. ... I’ve never really had to sit out during the season for a long period of time.”
The Mariners also recalled rookie right-hander Zac Grotz from Tacoma for additional bullpen help, pushing their expanded active roster to 32 players.
This is the 26-year-old’s second stint with Seattle this season. In five relief appearances with the Mariners during July and August, he posted a 1-0 record and 3.52 ERA, striking out seven and walking five across 7 2/3 innings.
He was initially promoted from Arkansas but optioned to Tacoma when Felix Hernandez was reinstated from the 60-day IL last month. He made two appearances with the Rainiers, tossing three scoreless innings and allowing two hits and one walk while striking out three.