Mariners Takeaways: Jarred Kelenic’s challenge, Taylor Trammell’s poise
Despite dropping the last two games of their seven-game homestand, the Mariners overall played good baseball back at home, winning the first five of those ballgames.
With Wednesday’s 6-0 loss in the rearview mirror, the Mariners will travel south to take on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the first game of a 10-game (11-day) road trip.
Before we look ahead to the upcoming action, let’s glance back at the good and the bad of the Mariners’ recent homestand.
Starting pitching shines, then takes a hit
A major part of why the Mariners were able to win five of seven in this homestand was because of the guys on the mound.
Chris Flexen got things started with seven scoreless innings against the Texas Rangers in the series opener, which the Mariners won 5-0. Justus Sheffield was solid the next day, throwing five innings of two-run ball in a 3-2 Seattle win. Next up was Justin Dunn, who allowed only two hits and one run in 5 2/3 innings while striking out eight in a 3-2 win. And to cap off the four-game sweep, Yusei Kikuchi threw 6 2/3 innings of two-run, three-hit ball with a walk in a 4-2 win.
After that sweep, the Mariners lost a three-game series to the Athletics, but their starting pitching for the most part was good.
In the series opener, rookie right-hander Logan Gilbert threw a career-high six innings and allowed two runs in a 6-5 win. Staff ace Marco Gonzales returned from a forearm injury that sidelined him for a month in the second game of the series and he pitched very well while being limited to four innings, allowing just one run on a home run and striking out six. The bullpen allowed 11 runs the rest of the way, however, in a 12-6 loss.
The one outlier in terms of starts in the seven-game homestand was Flexen’s outing in the finale Wednesday night. He gave up five runs in the third inning of the 6-0 loss, though he still gave the Mariners six innings.
While it appeared the Mariners’ rotation was getting in a groove just as it was getting back to a full six-man rotation for the first time in weeks, the depth took a hit Wednesday when it was announced that Dunn had been placed on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation. During Wednesday’s game, Dunn discussed the injury with Aaron Goldsmith and Mike Blowers on the ROOT Sports broadcast.
“It’s alright. I just didn’t bounce back too good from the last one, but we’ll give it a couple days and hopefully we’ll clear it back up and be ready to go,” Dunn said.
With Dunn hurt, the Mariners recalled reliever Robert Dugger from Triple-A Tacoma. Dugger is someone who can throw multiple innings and has started two “bullpen days” for the Mariners over the last few weeks.
After Wednesday’s game, manager Scott Servais told reporters that he’s hopeful Dunn will miss just one start, but he’s not sure if that will be the case. With Dunn set to miss at least one start, Dugger may find himself starting another bullpen day for the Mariners very soon.
Kelenic’s Ks go up, he goes down in the order
Last week, I wrote about how one reason that Jarred Kelenic’s struggles weren’t as bad as they seemed was because of a low strikeout rate. In his first 13 games (55 plate appearances), Kelenic struck out just 16.4% of the time, which was lower than the MLB average of roughly 22% at the time.
But in this recent homestand, that’s changed for the worse. He now sits at a 25% K rate, which exceeds the MLB average of 21.9%.
Kelenic got the day off in Wednesday’s series finale against Oakland as the A’s rolled out tough lefty starter Sean Manaea, and that was probably for the best given Kelenic’s struggles over the previous six games.
During the homestand, Kelenic went 0 for 21 with 11 strikeouts, and he is currently hitless in his last 28 at-bats. Kelenic, who struck out only nine times in his first 13 MLB games, is now slashing .111/.200/.222 on the year.
On Tuesday, Kelenic was moved down in the order from leadoff to the sixth spot. He went hitless in four at-bats with three strikeouts, with two coming against tough lefty relievers Jesus Luzardo and Jake Diekman.
After the Mariners’ loss on Tuesday, Blowers joined Shannon Drayer on the 710 ESPN Seattle postgame show and discussed Kelenic’s slide down in the order as well as his overall struggles. A large part of Kelenic’s early issues at the plate, Blowers said, are due to not doing damage on hittable pitches and then not getting better pitches to hit as the game progresses.
“He’s been putting the ball in play for the most part … but he’s missing pitches that he needs to put forward,” said the former MLB infielder and current ROOT Sports analyst. “And I think you can do that at the Triple-A level or the Double-A level and (later) you’ll get another pitch to hit, but here (in MLB) it’s not the case. It’s either weak contact or he’s fouling it off and missing it, or he’s just taking it and then they go to work on you and that makes it really tough. He’s kind of in that no-man’s land right now where he’s trying to get this figured out.”
As far as Kelenic moving from the top of the order to the six hole, Blowers thinks that’s the right move.
“I like the fact that (Servais) moved him down in the lineup. I think that’s a good idea especially because he’s struggling right now so it will limit him to not having to take that extra at-bat,” he said, saying it should take pressure off the young outfielder. “… I like that hitting sixth or seventh in the lineup (gives) him an opportunity to watch some of the left-handed hitters in the lineup and how (pitchers) are approaching them and what they’re seeing and what they’re doing and he’s not the leadoff guy.”
Trammell showcases improvements made in Triple-A
Kelenic isn’t the only Mariners rookie whose MLB career started cold this year. Heck, he’s not even the only outfielder.
While Kelenic started the 2021 season in the minors, fellow outfield prospect Taylor Trammell won a big-league roster spot out of spring training.
Unfortunately, Trammell scuffled out of the gate, slashing .157/255/.337 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in 27 games. The big issue was that he struck out 41 times in that span. So when the Mariners called up Kelenic, it was Trammell who was demoted to Triple-A Tacoma.
That move worked out well for Trammell, who slashed an absurd .384/.413/.726 with six home runs and 19 RBIs in 17 games with the Rainiers.
Trammell was called back up this week as starting center fielder Kyle Lewis was placed on the 10-day injured list with a knee injury. In his two games since his call-up, Trammell is 1 for 6 with a walk. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The lone hit was a towering home run in his first game back Tuesday night that traveled 426 feet and was hit 104.3 mph off the bat per Statcast.
He's back with a bang 💥 pic.twitter.com/v0Af6A9pDs
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) June 2, 2021
He also had a hard lineout in that game that was hit 91 mph off the bat.
Trammell didn’t get a hit or on base Wednesday as the Mariners struggled mightily against Manaea, but Trammell looked far more comfortable in the box than during his first MLB stint. He put the ball in play twice with another 91 mph lineout and also had a groundout, both balls that had an expected batting average of .330. And while he did strike out against Manaea, but it was a long seven-pitch battle where Trammell fouled off multiple tough close pitches.
Whether Trammell really puts things together as a big leaguer this year remains to be seen, but at least in his first two games back with the Mariners there are some promising signs that he’ll have more success than his first MLB stint.