Salk: Nothing more important for Mariners than for Jarred Kelenic to succeed

Apr 1, 2022, 12:56 AM
Mariners Jarred Kelenic...
Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic reacts after a home run against Arizona on Sept. 11, 2021. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The world is full of dynamic duos. Music has McCartney and Lennon, Jagger and Richards, and about a million others. Acting has Newman and Redford, Pacino and De Niro, Sandler and Barrymore. Basketball fans can point to Stockton and Malone or the Splash Brothers in Golden State. We could go on forever.

Baseball certainly has its own. Canseco and McGwire. Maddux and Glavine. Mantle and Maris.

I don’t know that we’ll need to speak of the Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez and Jarred Kelenic in quite those same reverential tones, but in order for this rebuild to work, they’ll need to be good. Very good. Maybe great. And no one will complain if they reach the ultimate level.

Knocking down the door? Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez wows with electric night

This spring has been all about Julio. He has torn the cover off the ball, dazzled with his smile, impressed with his command of the language, improved his speed (which he used to dash around the bases for an inside-the-park home run Thursday night) and capably manned center field. If he doesn’t start in center on opening day for the Mariners, let alone make the team, there may be a riot at the corner of Edgar and Dave.

And while Julio’s Rookie of the Year campaign seems all but a fait accompli (kidding – kind of), nothing would be more important to the Mariners’ success this season than for Kelenic to live up to the lofty hype that has surrounded him since the day he arrived in the trade that sent Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz to New York. Heck, if he can just avoid the dry spells like he had last May and look more like the player he was in September, everyone should breathe a little easier.

Especially him.

There is no doubting Kelenic’s talent. He is made of muscle, his swing is smooth and powerful, and he has hit at every level. And he showed us last year that when hot, he can carry a team – even as a 22-year-old rookie.

The questions about Kelenic are about his mind. Not his understanding of baseball – he sees the game well. No, it’s his emotions, and specifically his ability to control them. It was clearly a challenge for him when he was first called up last May. We heard stories of broken bats and bashed helmets in the tunnel. He was struggling to live up to his trademark confidence/cockiness, and when he couldn’t, it spiraled on him.

When he was eventually sent back down to Triple-A Tacoma, it was brutal.

“Being sent down is super hard on your mental health,” he told me this spring. “It makes you question a lot of things about you – you as a player, you as a person, the whole nine yards.”

Not to read too much into his words, but he sounds like a guy whose identity is inexorably linked to his ability to hit a baseball, and that will either be the secret to his success or the fatal flaw that keeps him from achieving his full potential.

I think the Mariners mishandled his promotion last season. It’s not so much that he wasn’t ready but the spot they threw him into. Remember that when he was called up, they were struggling badly to hit, and they didn’t exactly ease him into the lineup. They batted him leadoff right away. How could he not feel the pressure to perform? For a kid who is prone to gripping the bat too tight, he was not set up to succeed.

This spring started slowly once again for Kelenic. He hasn’t lit it up like his pal Julio. He’s likely to see more time at the corner spots as Julio takes more reps in center field. And while the numbers haven’t looked good, his GM said his at-bats have been fine and he is driving the ball the other way, a sign that he is relaxed and swinging free and easy.

Let’s hope that good approach leads to some results, because Kelenic seems like the kind of player who can really build off his own success. And while Julio will get a season to make his rookie mistakes, Kelenic will feel a little more pressure to perform this year. The 2022 Mariners are built to handle Julio’s ups and downs, but they’ve had Kelenic written in pen. They are counting on him.

I also wonder how Kelenic will handle Julio’s ascension. While they have been linked for years, he was always ahead because of his age. How will he handle being caught – or passed – by his partner? Will he allow that doubt to creep back in? Will he thrive without the perceived pressure to carry the team?

Kelenic seems like a bright kid with a good head on his shoulders and the family support to help him through anything. I have a lot of faith that he will rise to the occasion, and I hope he does. Because nothing would mean more to this team this year than him building on last year.

And if he and Julio turn out to be on the level of some of those great dynamic duos, well, I think Mariners fans know what kind of future they could expect.

More Mariners coverage from SeattleSports.com

Dipoto sheds light on Mariners’ rotation battle between Brash, Kirby
M’s encouraged by Abraham Toro’s torrid spring
Will M’s carry Cal Raleigh as third catcher?
Drayer: Mariners even more comfortable with standout bullpen
Marco Gonzales opens up about his up and down 2021

Date Starting Pitcher
Wednesday, May 18 @ 4:07 pm Mariners' Marco Gonzales vs. Blue Jays' Kevin Gausman

Mariners Roof Report

Brought to you by
Rain Showers Likely
High 58° | Low 42°
Mariners are on the road.
Mariners at Blue Jays today at 4:07pm

Mike Salk

Mike Salk

Seahawks Jamal Adams...
Brandon Gustafson

Clint Hurtt: Seahawks looking to ‘accentuate’ what Jamal Adams does best

New Seahawks DC Clint Hurtt joined The Mike Salk Show and broke down what he's seen and looking for with star safety Jamal Adams.
12 hours ago
Seahawks Rashaad Penny...
Brent Stecker

Bumpus answers big Seahawks questions about RB, QB

Things are going to be different with the Seahawks' offense in 2022. Michael Bumpus answers big questions about RB and QB.
12 hours ago
Seahawks Coby Bryant...
Brent Stecker

2 Seahawks Takes: Which rookies will have immediate impact?

Michael Bumpus and Mike Salk pick one Seahawks 2022 NFL Draft pick on each side of the ball who will have the biggest impact in 2022.
2 days ago
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
Brent Stecker

Huard: Julio Rodríguez showing ‘something special’ like other Mariners phenoms

Brock Huard said 21-year-old Mariners rookie Julio Rodríguez "captivated" the big stage he was on this weekend in a series win over the Mets.
3 days ago
Seahawks Shane Waldron...
Maura Dooley

Seahawks’ offense in ’22 is Waldron’s 2nd chance at 1st impression

While 2021 was Shane Waldron's first season as Seahawks offensive coordinator, Maura Dooley details why 2022 will be the first chance to see his offense.
3 days ago
Mariners Mitch Haniger...
Brent Stecker

Mariners Injury Updates: Latest on Mitch Haniger, Kyle Lewis and more

How soon could some of the Mariners' most notable players on the injured list return? Details from Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais here.
7 days ago
Salk: Nothing more important for Mariners than for Jarred Kelenic to succeed