Mariners have to battle through injuries

Mariners have to battle through injuries

NEW YORK -- The past two weeks have been extremely painful for the Mariners, and how they cope with the adversity going forward could be the key to their pennant-race ambitions.

The entire left side of their defense has been altered by injuries, costing them the services of left fielder Endy Chavez, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and now third baseman Adrian Beltre.

Ouch, ouch and triple-ouch.

Beltre, a two-time Gold Glove winner, is the latest casualty. He finally gave in to the intense pain in his left shoulder and will have surgery on Tuesday to re-remove bone spurs. If all goes well, he could return to the Mariners in mid- to late-August.

Chavez suffered a season-ending knee injury during a collision with Betancourt on May 19, and five days later, Betancourt strained his right hamstring. He's on the 15-day disabled list and expected to be sidelined for two to three more weeks.

Ah, but there's more.

In non-injury-related matters, catcher Rob Johnson and second baseman Jose Lopez both missed almost a week's worth of games while on the bereavement list following deaths in their families.

Despite all that, the Mariners begin a three-game series against the Yankees on Tuesday night at new Yankee Stadium with a winning record (39-36) and are in the thick of the three-team AL West race.

"This team has responded to a lot of tragedy and hard times," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "And we'll be OK."

Just two years after going through an entire 162-game season without putting even one position player on the disabled list, Beltre becomes No. 5 this season -- and perhaps the most critical loss so far.

"You don't replace someone like Adrian," said Chris Woodward, who figures to be among the first to try. "He means so much to this team."

On Sunday, the Mariners played their last game with Beltre in the lineup for a while and defeated the Dodgers in Los Angeles. As the team departed for New York, a decision still hadn't been made on who would take over at the hot corner and how the lineup would look on Tuesday night without their third baseman and no. 3 hitter.

"You have to look at all your options," Wakamatsu said. "We have to look at everything and ponder different things, whether it's putting Lopez at third, whether it's moving Russell [Branyan] over there [from first base]. There are a lot of things we could do, but I'm leaning more toward keeping Russell at first base and let him continue to have the year he's having and fill third with Lopez or Woody."

But nobody is as good as Beltre on defense.

"You don't even think about having the ball hit there," pitcher Jarrod Washburn said. "You just pitch knowing that if the ball is hit that way it's an out. But you know, as good as he is, we'll still have confidence in whoever steps in.

"That's a good thing about this team. We all pull for each other. We're all on the same page and in the same boat. A.B. is a professional and one of the best teammates I've ever had, works his tail off and plays hurt. There is something to be said for that."

Matt Tuiasosopo, the organization's most likely third baseman of the future, has been sidelined since the ninth game of the season at Triple-A and is currently rehabbing in Arizona.

"He's still a ways away," Wakamatsu said.

With or without Tuiasosopo, a two-month stretch without Beltre will give the remainder of the team its biggest challenge of a season that has gone much better than expected. There is a cohesiveness that wasn't there last season, and Beltre has been instrumental in the attitude makeover.

"He's the best third baseman in the league," right-hander Felix Hernandez said. "We can overcome his loss, but we have to keep playing like we've been playing. We're going to miss him, his leadership, his defense, his offense, everything.

"It has been hard, man," Hernandez added. "Endy is out for the season, then Yuni gets hurt, and now Belly. It's tough, but we're still winning and when those guys [Beltre and Betancourt] come back, we'll be better."

There are a lot of games to be played over the next six to eight weeks and Washburn understands the importance to step it up individually.

"It's going to be a big hole to fill and we all have to do a little extra," he said. "It's not going to be just one guy who can step in and fill that void. We all have to do our part. It's a huge loss for us and nobody is happy about it, but it is part of the game -- the not-fun part."

Veteran reliever Miguel Batista said the onus not only is on the players to step it up, but everyone in the organization -- including Wakamatsu.

"Honestly, it's going to show us how good this manager is. He will have to manage his brains out. He will have to make a lot of moves to compensate for what is going on and hopefully we don't have any more bad news coming our way."

One of the first things Wakamatsu might do is move Branyan, who leads the team with 19 home runs, from second to third in the lineup and try Woodward in the two-hole. He might move Lopez back to the second spot in the lineup.

"A lot depends on how people play," he said.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.