BRENT STECKER

Mariners Table Setter: Jarred Kelenic is here, but the whole outfield is the story

May 17, 2021, 1:29 AM
Mariners Mitch Haniger Jarred Kelenic...
Mitch Haniger enters the week tied for the major league lead in home runs with 12. (Getty)
(Getty)

Just as the Mariners hit their roughest patch of 2021 so far, they injected some excitement back into their season.

Sunday: M’s chase Cy Young winner Shane Bieber, beat Cleveland 3-2

The obvious reason why is because of the dual call-ups of top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert, who debuted Thursday night when Seattle kicked off a four-game series against a strong Cleveland team. Then there’s the fact that the Mariners (21-20) actually took three of four from Cleveland (21-17) to get back over .500, giving them another surprising series win against one of the better teams in baseball.

But while Kelenic had a breakout game Friday night, thrilling the crowd at T-Mobile Park by going 3 for 4 with two doubles, three RBIs, and a two-run home run that served as his first hit in the majors, there’s actually a long list of Mariners outfielders making news going into this week.

Despite that huge performance in Friday’s 7-3 win, Kelenic has otherwise been finding out just how tough life in an MLB batter’s box can be for a rookie. He went hitless in every other game against Cleveland and had some visible moments of frustration Saturday and Sunday after recording outs. Cause for concern? Not really. Go take a look at Alex Rodriguez’s stats from 1995 if you’re getting worried, and also remember that Kelenic is just a 21-year-old kid who saw his entire 2020 season wiped out with the minor leagues out of action. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him assigned a spot lower in the batting order soon to take some pressure off of him after he hit leadoff in his first four MLB games, either.

The Mariners have a pretty good option to hit leadoff besides Kelenic anyways, and that would be Mitch Haniger.

Before the season, I wrote about how Haniger having a Comeback Player of the Year-caliber season would be key for the Mariners to have a successful season. And, well, he’s doing that and then some.

With a run of four home runs in five games, he has moved into a tie for the MLB lead in homers with 12 this season, which is just remarkable considering he returned this season after a year and a half out due to injuries and multiple surgeries. And though you could point to his average and on-base percentage lacking after he went 0 for 4 on Thursday, his numbers have climbed a significant amount since. Going 2 for 2 with two doubles and two walks in Sunday’s 3-2 win certainly helps, and as he told Mariners insider Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN Seattle, he’s aware that he can’t just rely on the long ball.

Haniger raised his slash line Sunday to .268/.320/.575 (.895 OPS), and he wasn’t the only star outfielder who reached base four times for the Mariners on the day. Kyle Lewis had a pair of singles (including one that drove in Haniger in the first inning) and also walked twice, a good sign that he’s finding the form he had in his 2020 Rookie of the Year campaign after a slow start to this season following a stint on the injured list.

With Haniger and Lewis producing and Kelenic now the regular left fielder, it seems to make the Mariners sitting above .500 seems feel just a bit more convincing than maybe it would have a week ago. And the really interesting thing is that while that already looks like a pretty enticing outfield, Seattle’s farm system has a couple other outfielders who are doing everything they can to speed up their respective return and arrival to Seattle.

With the Tacoma Rainiers, Taylor Trammell has responded to his demotion after 27 MLB games by absolutely lighting up Triple-A pitching. The 23 year old is a ridiculous 11 for 18 (.611) with three homers in four games since joining Tacoma.

This is his first-ever stint in Triple-A as he jumped from Double-A when he made the Mariners’ opening day roster out of spring training, and while the M’s may not have an obvious spot on the active roster for him now, it’s now hard to imagine he’ll be staying down in Tacoma for long.

And as hot as Trammell has been, Single-A Everett’s Julio Rodríguez is giving him a run for his money. He’s running a 10-game hitting streak with the AquaSox, and with a homer on Sunday he now has five in his last six games and one in each of his last four games.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has not ruled out the 20 year old making his MLB debut by the end of this season, and Rodríguez is off to the kind of start he needs to make that truly a possibility.

The Mariners are getting their first glimpse of their outfield of the future with Kelenic’s promotion, and it’s quite something to see him, Lewis and Haniger playing alongside each other for the first time – especially since Seattle won three of their first four games since they all joined up. Things may get more interesting yet if Trammell returns with more confidence and a better approach and Rodríguez presses the issue to get himself onto the roster by September.

How the Mariners “raked” Shane Bieber

I try my best to not get hung up on the most recent Mariners game in these columns, but I can’t help it after what the Mariners did Sunday against Shane Bieber, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. Especially after what Mariners manager Scott Servais said during his usual pregame media availability, mapping out a clear gameplan that his team was taking into the matchup.

“(Bieber) can really command it and it’s going to the corners of the strike zone with all of his pitches. I say all of that and he (still) makes mistakes in the middle of the plate,” Servais said. “I just watched his last outing and he’s really, really good, but nobody’s perfect. You’ve gotta be ready to hit from pitch one trying to control the outside corner, especially if you’re a right-handed hitter. He commands it very, very well, but he still makes mistakes. We’ve got to be ready to capitalize on those when they’re there because there will be a few – there will be, guaranteed.”

That sure sounds like how the Mariners were able to chase Bieber in the fifth inning (the first time anyone had done that in his last 40 starts, according to Gary Hill Jr.) and snap his MLB record of 20 straight games with at least eight strikeouts.

Haniger controlled the outside corner in the first inning, doubling into the right-field corner, and two batters later Lewis found a pitch he could dump into center field to bring Haniger home.

Then in the third inning, Seattle put together one of the more impressive two-out rallies you may see this season. Haniger and Kyle Seager drew back-to-back walks, and Lewis singled to load the bases. J.P. Crawford followed up with a great at-bat and eventually got something he could handle on a 2-2 count for a two-run single to center.

After the game, Crawford had a colorful way of echoing the sentiments his manager had shared beforehand about not being intimidated by Cleveland’s ace.

“Bring it on, I’m going to rake your face,” Crawford said. “That’s what I’m thinking in the box.”

When you out-execute your league’s Cy Young and beat him on a bullpen day, I’d say a quote like that is earned.

This week’s Mariners schedule

All games and shows air live on 710 ESPN Seattle.

• Monday: Mariners vs. Tigers, 7:10 p.m. (pregame show 6 p.m.)
• Tuesday: Scott Servais Show, 1 p.m. on Jake & Stacy with Shannon Drayer
• Tuesday: Mariners vs. Tigers, 7:10 p.m. (pregame show 6 p.m.)
• Wednesday: Mariners vs. Tigers, 7:10 p.m. (pregame show 6 p.m.)
• Thursday: Jerry Dipoto Show, 8:30 a.m. on Danny & Gallant
• Friday: Mariners at Padres, 7:10 p.m. (pregame show 6 p.m.)
• Saturday: Mariners at Padres, 5:10 p.m. (pregame show 4:30 p.m.)
• Sunday: Mariners Magazine, 11 a.m.
• Sunday: Mariners at Padres, 1:10 p.m. (pregame show noon)

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M’s rookies Jarred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert describe their MLB debuts

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Mariners Table Setter: Jarred Kelenic is here, but the whole outfield is the story