Christianson Working His Way Back

InsidethePark.com's Sean Duade played catch-up with former first-round pick Ryan Christianson. The 23-year-old speaks about his comeback from shoulder surgery, and his future with the Seattle Mariners.

Ryan Christianson hadn't even graduated high school when he was selected eleventh overall by the Seattle Mariners in the 1999 Amateur Draft; his promise was extraordinary.

Once his professional career began he picked up where he left off, and after his 2001 season in Double-A it appeared that Christianson would be ready for a 2004 Major League Debut, if not earlier. But injuries during the 2002 and '03 seasons swiftly derided Christianson of any such dreams.

The former first round pick's first setback was in 2002 when he missed two months of action with a stress fracture of his left foot. Despite the injury and missed time, the backstop still wound up hitting .261 in 73 games, which was nine points higher than his career average up until that point. The worst, however, was yet to come.

2003 was a nightmare season for the 6-foot, 210-pound right-handed hitter. It all started with a sore elbow that placed him on the DL for a month and a half. His return late in the season didn't last long as the catcher appeared in just four games with Peoria on a rehab assignment. During that time it became clear that his shoulder was in too much pain to continue playing and just like that the entire 2003 season was lost for once-promising backstop.

After an operation on his shoulder and several months of rehabbing, Christianson began the 2004 season by picking up where he left off in 2002, as the catcher for the Double-A San Antonio Missions. Hitting .280 in 34 games (19 caught), Christianson was promoted to Triple-A for the first time, but after experiencing a bit of a "dead arm" the Mariners brass decided to proceed with caution and limited the 23-year-old catcher to a role as a designated hitter with Tacoma.

The 1999 high school catcher of the year will tell you, however, that his designation of DH is anything but permanent.

"The plan right now is to get healthy," Christianson said. "I mean, basically I'm just trying to get my arm strength back to where I need it to be and hopefully just be back playing everyday next year catching."

Injuries may have dulled Christianson's arm but his bat remains sharp. In 23 games since joining Tacoma, he is hitting .295.

"Right now my swing is starting to feel real good," Christianson said, "I feel like it's where it needs to be. Prior to this it was like a roller coaster everyday going out there trying to find it. I mean I'm close to around 200 at-bats in (to the season) after missing a year and a half, so right now there have still some adjustments I've been making, and right now is as close to where I was at before I was injured."

Not having to catch has given the former California High School Baseball Player of the Year the luxury of being able to focus more on his swing. The time allowed him by DHing has also seemed to create a greater focus in Christianson's plate awareness. Often he will take time during batting practice to identify tiny bugaboos in his swing and try to correct them.

"(I work on) my swinging," Christianson said, "like the mechanics of the swing.

"The other day I made an adjustment because my hands were getting too low, I wasn't bringing up my swing, and I raised my hands up and my swing has gotten a lot more free."

His work has paid off. He's currently flirting with .300 for the first time in his professional baseball career, and credits much of the success to the hard work of his coaching staff and teammates.

"It's a lot of fun (to play on the Rainiers)," Christianson said. "Especially when you come out and have a good day and contribute to a win, there is nothing more fun in baseball than that.

"Every day you do good, or bad, or whatever and it doesn't mean as much until you get into a race. And if we weren't in a race right now you would just go out and try and get a win, but at the same time you're not really playing for much besides your numbers. But right now we're still playing for a team effort, and that's the most fun part about it."

Sean Duade is currently a junior at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma WA, and welcomes your feedback at sduade@msn.com.

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