The Seattle Mariners will likely be without Corey Hart for an unknown period after he left Sunday’s game with a left hamstring injury.
His replacement at the designated hitter position is in question.
Nothing has been confirmed by the Mariners yet, but the injury appeared to be a left hamstring strain that will almost certainly require a trip to the disabled list.
As Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports, Hart will be leaving the team to have an MRI in Seattle on Monday. This means he will miss at least the last two games of the Mariners’ road trip, and likely more:
#Mariners now saying Corey Hart will head to Seattle (not Texas) for examination of his strained left hamstring…— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) May 18, 2014
The Mariners made the low-risk, high-reward move of bringing in Hart on an incentive-laden contract over the offseason in hopes that he could provide some power to the lineup.
Hart hit 87 home runs over a three-year period with the Milwaukee Brewers before missing all of 2013 with surgeries on both knees.
Hart has been scuffling at the plate lately, and his season line is down to .209/.295/.353. He has provided a bit of pop with five homers, ranking fourth on the team.
The concern with Hart was always going to be his health. Hart told Greg Johns of MLB.com that Sunday’s injury did not feel too serious, at least compared to his knee problems:
Right when I got ready to slide, I felt it. My momentum carried me there, but I kind of knew my game was over. I've never had leg cramps or pulled a leg muscle, so I'm not really sure what it is. But I'll get it checked out just to make sure. Hopefully it's just a little strain and isn't anything too big. Other than knees, I've never had leg problems. It can't be worse than I've had before. I don't want anything long term, so hopefully it's just a nuisance.
Still, it would be a shock if a hamstring strain didn’t keep Hart out for at least 15 days. That leaves the Mariners with some interesting decisions to make at designated hitter.
1. Nick Franklin
The most obvious replacement would be Nick Franklin, who continues to show he has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues.
As Johns points out, the Mariners seemed poised to call up Franklin on Tuesday:
Nick Franklin scheduled to start in LF today for Tacoma, but was pulled from lineup before game. Seems likely he'll join #Mariners in Texas.— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) May 18, 2014
Brad Miller’s tailspin is only getting worse, and with shortstop prospect Chris Taylor on the disabled list with a broken pinky finger, Franklin is really the only replacement possibility at shortstop.
If the Mariners want to optimize their current lineup, Franklin should be the everyday shortstop until Taylor is healthy—with the DH duties done by committee.
2. Logan Morrison
Logan Morrison could be close to returning to the club after missing over a month with a hamstring injury himself. Johns reports that Morrison might be able start a rehab assignment as early as Tuesday, with a decision about his status soon to follow:
Logan Morrison is close to going out on rehab assignment. Will test hamstring in Texas on Tuesday and then decision likely coming.— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) May 18, 2014
Should Morrison return soon, he would get a significant amount of at-bats at DH—particularly against right-handed pitching.
The Mariners traded for Morrison over the winter in hopes that he could finally stay healthy and show some of the potential that never really materialized during his time with the Miami Marlins.
The move hasn’t worked out so far in 2014, but the Mariners aren't going to give up on Morrison after just 22 plate appearances.
3. Stefen Romero
As for lefties, Stefen Romero deserves a shot at DH when he is not playing in the outfield. Romero struggled early after breaking camp with the team, but showed some flashes of ability when given a stretch of consistent playing time.
Romero had his best major league game on May 12 against the Tampa Bay Rays, going 3-for-5 with three RBI. One of those hits was an absolutely crushed home run that nearly reached Safeco Field’s upper deck.
Romero has shown he has some of the power needed to fill the void left by Hart.
4. Jesus Montero
One more possibility is a name that Mariners fans don’t necessarily want to hear: Jesus Montero.
Not only was Montero a disaster at the plate and in the field during his time in Seattle, but he did himself no favors off the field as well. Montero showed up to camp overweight this season and was forced to serve a 50-game suspension in 2013 in connection with the Biogenesis probe.
The Mariners are probably reluctant to call up Montero, as they should be, but the circumstances might dictate his promotion.
Despite a power drought over the past couple of weeks, Montero is hitting a solid .262/.329/.489 with seven home runs and 14 walks in 36 games at AAA Tacoma.
Who should get the majority of DH starts with Corey Hart injured?
Montero has hit quite well at times in Tacoma all year, including a stretch of four home runs in five games—one of which traveled 480 feet.
At worst, giving Montero at-bats over someone like Morrison won’t be much of a downgrade. At best, Montero might finally show why he was once a top prospect.
He would obviously have a very short leash in Seattle, but it wouldn’t hurt to bring him in for a two-week experiment.
Overall, the Mariners shouldn’t be too much worse off with Hart’s injury, particularly given how he had been hitting recently.
The most important development of Hart’s absence could be the chance Franklin gets to cement his future place in Seattle’s lineup.