PEORIA, Ariz. – Chone Figgins hustled around the bases Sunday morning with a huge smile on his face.
Figgins is feeling healthy again, having rehabilitated a torn hip labrum to the point he can now run free of pain for the first time in nearly a year. And in just a couple of days, he should gain a newfound freedom: a long-awaited return to the leadoff spot in the order where he achieved his greatest success before joining the Mariners two years ago.
The Mariners have already told Figgins he’ll get the chance to play every day in 2012, primarily at third base. Figgins said Sunday that he has yet to be told where in the batting order he’ll hit, but manager Eric Wedge confirmed afterward that the decision had already been made.
“I think it’s important,” Wedge said of letting Figgins know where he’ll hit. “I think that this will all play out here in the next couple of days.”
Wedge added that he’ll be speaking to Figgins and a couple of other players about their specific lineup roles.
“And then as soon as I’m done,” he said, “I’m going to talk to you (media) guys, and then you can write your you-know-whats off.”
Wedge dropped hints most of the winter that he was seriously considering a move of Ichiro out of the leadoff spot. Figgins, 34, would be the obvious replacement, given his previous success there with the Angels before signing a four-year, $36 million contract with Seattle and being relegated mostly to the No. 2 position.
It’s unlikely that, after dropping so many hints and laying so much groundwork for a possible Ichiro move, the manager would change his mind and keep things the way they are before a single Cactus League game is played. Letting Figgins know his exact role early will be key, since the infielder said Sunday that he’ll either adopt a more patient approach out of the leadoff role, or be more aggressive if kept further down the order.
“That depends on where I’m hitting in the lineup,” he said. “That all determines it.”
Figgins last year seemed somewhat caught between the two styles after years of being a more patient hitter. That and a nagging hip problem led to his playing time being cut and Figgins finishing off with the worst numbers of his career – a .188 batting average and a .241 on-base percentage.
On top of that, the father of his fiancee passed away in July while the Mariners were on a road trip to New York. Figgins briefly left the team to be with her and her family.
Among the first things Figgins did when the season ended was get married and have a brief honeymoon before flying to see a specialist in Philadelphia, fearing his lingering hip problem was a sports hernia that might sideline him several months.
But the hip seemed to be getting better, and the specialist told Figgins that would not be the case with a hernia. He flew to New York for an MRI right after, and suspicions of a less-serious labrum tear were confirmed.
“The way it was explained to me was that it’s a piece of muscle that got torn,” Figgins said. “And it kept getting caught in the socket in the hip. And then it would pop back out.”
He was put on a rehabilitation program consisting of a series of exercises designed to maximize blood flow to the area and prevent a recurrence of the injury. Figgins now feels completely healthy and says he’s looking forward to getting back on the field.
The Mariners have already told him he’ll be playing mostly at third, but also bouncing around other infield and outfield spots.
“They asked me if I’d mind doing it,” Figgins said. “And I’m like, ‘No’.”
He had only one request.
“Like I told them, ‘I’m going to be ready for wherever you play me in the lineup, as long as you play me every day,’ ” he said. “That’s something I care about.”
Wedge took notice of how Figgins smiled and seemed to be having fun on the field as the Mariners went through their morning workout.
“He’s a real good person,” Wedge said. “He’s a good baseball player. He’s had a tough go of it for a couple of years here, and it’s been hard on him. But the best thing he can do is put that behind him and learn from it. And take whatever he can from it and then come out and play ball. He’s going to get an opportunity here.”