M’s notebook: Playful Jarred Kelenic says 2-HR day could have been 3
Monday was Mariners outfielder Kyle Lewis’ 25th birthday, but it was Jarred Kelenic who had the party, belting not one but two home runs in the Mariners’ eight-inning intrasquad game.
They were the first home runs in intrasquad games for Kelenic, who had peppered the stands in batting practices last week.
“I’m comfortable at the plate right now,” said the soon-to-be 21 year old. “During quarantine I got super super strong so I wasn’t going to have to do a lot to get the ball out of the yard. But right now it’s feeling real, real good. I feel like I am on the ball and seeing it really good but baseball is a funny thing, there are days when you can’t hit a beach ball and days where the ball looks as big as a beach ball.”
For the record, Kelenic is seeing beach balls and feeling pretty good about it.
“I was looking for something soft, I didn’t think his fastball was going to beat me,” he said of home run No. 1, which came off the lefty Nestor Cortes. “I wanted to stay through the left side of the field with it and take the approach of a fastball that I was going to react to it especially if it was in and that’s what happened. I got the head out and smell you later.”
With Kelenic in right field on Monday, why not go with the Buhner-ism.
On home run No. 2, this one off Carl Edwards Jr., again Kelenic stayed with his approach and reacted deep in the count. Two home runs makes for a good day at the yard, but the remarkable thing is Kelenic believed that he could have had more. Home run No. 3 would have been a bit personal with starter Taijuan Walker telling Mariners manager Scott Servais that he wanted to see the youngster in the lineup against him.
“That’s garbage,” said Kelenic of the trash talking. “Much respect though, I like being called out like that. I’ve got much respect for that but I check-swung and that ball still went far. Had I full-swung that’s a new story. That might be three on the day. I wish I could have faced him another time.”
When Kelenic was told that Walker earlier admitted that he probably got away with a changeup he left up, his tone changed for just a beat.
“He said that?” he asked the reporters on the call.
He did indeed. Walker thought he got lucky with that pitch.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Kelenic before deferring a bit to his elder. “It goes back to just seeing the ball real will right now. He had good stuff today.”
The trash talking was about trying to up the intensity against teammates and Kelenic was having fun with the interview, but make no mistake, he does not lack in confidence. That confidence comes from the work he has put in and the commitment and sacrifices he has made to getting better. At the time of his trade from the Mets to the Mariners in December 2018, he was described as being “baseball-obsessed.” Those are words he most likely would take as a compliment.
“Where I want to get to in this game is something that means a lot to me and is more important than anything else,” he said. “I’ve always stayed so laser-focused on what I want to get to, being so young that the distraction of going to parties or hanging out with friends wasn’t a bad thing but I would rather be in the cage working on my swing and getting that fine-tuned. That’s something that my friends understand and that’s why they are my friends.”
He points out that focus does not cut him off from teammates, however. Kelenic said that some of the biggest things he is getting out of Summer Camp are the things that we can’t see. The clubhouse time, the conversations with teammates, the opportunity to get to know those around him show who he is.
“I am just trying to get better but at the same time I’m trying to be a kid and have fun with these guys because at the end of the day these are the guys we are going to war with,” he said. “It’s really trying to get to know everyone around here and letting them know that I’m an alright dude sometimes, you know.”
Taijuan’s day on the mound
Walker pitched two scoreless innings in the intrasquad game, giving up one hit, one walk and striking out two. His fastball sat at 93-94 mph and he felt good about all of his pitches except the changeup. Tom Murphy, who caught him, liked what he saw.
“He threw well, he commanded his fastball really well. His pitches looked good and he made good adjustments pitch to pitch,” the Mariners catcher said. “I feel like when his fastball is on, it is one of the heavier ones we have. You could tell his intensity was at a good level today. From the time he left the bullpen to game mode, flipped the switch. You could tell that once he was on the mound facing hitters it felt like a real live game for him.”
Walker, who is a ridiculous athlete, also made an attempt on defense at a soft roller to the left of the mound. He lost his footing, tumbled to the ground and was a little slow to get up but ended up fine. It was a play that you perhaps don’t want to see your starters attempt in games that don’t count but Walker saw it differently.
“I really wanted to make that play,” Walker said. “I tripped a little bit but I thought I recovered a little with the somersault and I thought I made it look good so it wouldn’t be too bad on YouTube. I think that’s what it needs to be. I think every play needs to be full effort in these games so we can actually get something out of it.”
• A welcome sight on the field before the game as Mallex Smith, Dylan Moore and Joe Hudson went through some strength and conditioning drills. The trio were among those who had yet to clear intake testing. While we can’t count players because morning workouts have been closed to the media, and with Servais confirming that Zac Grotz has joined the group, it appears that Yoshihisa Hirano is the only member of the 60-man roster yet to report.
• Relief pitcher Gerson Bautista has been diagnosed with a strained flexor mass suffered in Sunday’s intrasquad game. It is not believed he will require surgery but he could miss significant time.