SEATTLE — What’s the difference between the Ben Gamel who hit .188 in 33 games with the New York Yankees and the Mariners last season and the one who is batting .346 for Seattle in 2017?
“Nothing really. Same guy,” said the left fielder, who expects to be back in the lineup when the Mariners host the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night at Safeco Field. “Now I’m getting consistent at-bats.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais noted that most of Gamel’s 40 at-bats with Seattle last year came as a pinch hitter after he was acquired Aug. 31 from New York for right-handers Jio Orozco and Juan De Paula.
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“He was joking with me that I think 20 of his at-bats were against closers,” Servais said. “It’s tough when you are a young player and you come up and somebody just fires you into the game because you are a left-handed bat and you are supposed to hit right-handers.”
Gamel said, “There were some tough matchups last year, but it was a huge learning experience for me. I was able to take that into this year.”
Gamel, who is still classified as a rookie, would be leading the American League in batting if he had enough plate appearances to qualify (he is fewer than 10 short).
Not bad for a guy who started the season in Triple-A.
Gamel batted .258 with three home runs and 10 RBIs this spring but was sent to Tacoma when he was beaten out for the fourth outfielder job by Guillermo Heredia. The Mariners planned to start Jarrod Dyson in left, Leonys Martin in center and Mitch Haniger in right.
“He certainly could have made our team,” Servais said. “But when you put the team together in the offseason, you don’t want to get too caught up in what goes on in spring training. We had a plan with what our team was going to look like, and Leonys Martin was on that team based on what he had done the year before.”
When Gamel was sent down, Servais made sure to let him know he played well enough this spring.
“I told him he’d get a chance to come back, just because of how injuries work and lack of performance,” Servais said.
As it turned out, it was both.
Martin was waived after batting .111 in 15 games, and Haniger sustained an injury.
“You want to make the team in spring training, but I kind of expected (being sent to Triple-A),” Gamel said. “Heredia and Haniger had great springs and Dyson’s proven.”
Gamel was called up April 26 and has cemented his spot on the team. He’s hitting .394 in June and had a 15-game hitting streak snapped Saturday night against Houston. He has hits in 25 of his past 26 games.
“It’s one thing to get the opportunity,” Servais said. “But you have to seize it and take advantage of it, and he certainly has.”
Gamel didn’t play Sunday because of a groin injury and swollen lymph nodes.
“I’d love to keep him in there,” Servais said. “But he has played basically every game for a month … it takes its toll.”
Gamel told reporters he was on antibiotics and doesn’t expect to be out long.
“I should be good to go (Tuesday),” he said.
Gamel and the Mariners are set to face Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola (4-5, 4.32 ERA) for the first time in the opener of the two-game series.
Nola was sharp in his last outing, tossing 7 1/3 innings and allowing just one run in the Phillies’ 5-1 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday. He struck out a season-high eight and walked just two.
“I know what I’m capable of and I know what I can do, and today was me,” Nola said after the game. “I felt confident in all my pitches today, and (I was) commanding all my pitches when I wanted to. It was all good in those areas.”
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin added, “He had a lot of success early when he first got here and went through a period where he was struggling to find himself. … That looked like the old Nola that we saw, and that’s great to see. I was ecstatic.”
The Mariners will send left-hander James Paxton (5-2, 3.39) to the mound. Paxton is 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA in one career start against the Phillies in 2014.
The teams played a two-game series last month in Philadelphia, with the Mariners winning 10-9 and 11-6.
Former Mariners outfielder Michael Saunders won’t make the trip with the Phillies, who have the worst record in the major leagues at 24-51. Saunders was released Sunday along with reliever Jeanmar Gomez after both were designated for assignment last week.