Drayer: Mariners’ Kelenic is scuffling, but still in good place to take step forward
When news came out Wednesday night that Steven Souza Jr. had been lifted from the Tacoma Rainiers game, there was speculation that Jarred Kelenic would be sent down . While Kelenic’s 1-for-23 and overall numbers on paper made such speculation by those not around the Mariners understandable, the move did not jibe with what was seen and heard before and after games on the road trip.
“We continue to be patient with our guys,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Wednesday before the series finale in Houston.
Time alone will not keep a player on the Mariners 26-roster in 2022. Jerry Dipoto confirmed this on the Mike Salk Show Thursday morning pointing out that the Mariners have moved beyond the “get young guys experience at the big league level” phase they had been in the two previous seasons and that a push for the postseason was the priority. While Kelenic has not been putting up the numbers, Servais and staff like what they have seen from him in terms of making adjustments to get to those numbers.
“I thought Jarred’s at-bats last night (Tuesday) were very good,” Servais said Wednesday. “He had a long at-bat, he laid off a 3-2 changeup in the dirt, he made an adjustment with two strikes. It didn’t show up in the scorebook, but I’m aware of it, he felt better about it, it’s moving in the right direction.”
In talking with Kelenic Thursday afternoon for the Mariners Pregame Show on Seattle Sports 710 AM, it was clear he felt he was moving in the right direction after making some minor adjustments. With a tough lefty on the hill in Shane McClanahan for the Tampa Bay Rays he had the night off Thursday, which gave him the opportunity to get more work in on those adjustments, arriving a couple of hours early that day. The one little bit of frustration he may have had about where he was was displayed with a tinge of humor when asked mid-interview how he knew when it was time to make an adjustment.
“Ummmm, (sigh). When you are striking out every game? I’m just kidding,” he said shaking his head. “When you give something a try and you set a…I tried to make an adjustment a couple of weeks ago and I said I would give it to May to see if I was going in an upward direction or not. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, so now it’s learning from the mistakes that I’ve made in the last few weeks and now I’m going to make those adjustments for an extended period of time and see where I am.”
This is quite the departure from the kid we saw in Summer Camp two years ago. That kid expected everything immediately but has learned that for 99.9% in the game, it doesn’t work out that way. Big dreams are one thing, reality another and in 2022 with the pitching better than we have ever seen before, it’s an important lesson to learn. Even more important is to accept the situation as the only way a hitter is going to improve is with exposure to elite pitching and that cannot be accomplished in the minors. The divide is just too big in 2022. Lessons learned in 2021 have helped Kelenic get that opportunity to see that pitching and figure it out at the big league level.
“As frustrating as it is – it’s definitely extremely frustrating, I’m not getting results – one thing I am happy about is I haven’t gone crazy in my head yet,” he said. “I’m still in the box, I’m still battling. I’m swinging at the right pitches, taking the right ones and that’s allowed me to have those nights, two walks, hit the ball well, swing at the right pitches.”
This isn’t just a feel for Kelenic, the Mariners give nightly reports on swing decisions. The feedback is there. Of course, the desired feedback is results, but twisting himself in knots or raging against umpires is not going to help get him there. There’s little question he is in a much better place in that regard than he was a year ago. That took time and patience as well with Servais, a former farm director, acutely aware of the challenges that face younger players.
“When a high school or international sign comes in it sometimes takes longer to handle all the things that go on off the field is just as hard as on the field,” he said. “The expectations, all the noise. We talk to our guys about it, just keep the noise out, focus on what you love doing, your whole life and that’s just playing the game. All the other factors around it amplify things and it’s hard for young guys.”
Included in the “other things” this season are the nightly battles with strike zones and questions about the baseball. It is noise that Kelenic will leave to the fans.
“I wouldn’t say we talk about it very much,” he said. “At the end of the day, who knows what’s going on. All I know is as cliché it sounds, you just try to focus in on the game for the night and nothing more. We can’t control how the umps call balls and strikes, that’s on them, you just got to keep grinding away.”
That grind has received an assist in recent days with the opportunity to contribute in the field. Where center field looked like a challenge last year, right field is a completely different story. He’s made good reads out there, can cover good ground and has a strong throwing arm that he loves to show off. When talking about right field, a refreshing hint of the 2020 Kelenic bravado comes out.
“I am at a point right now where I am begging guys to try to take a bag on me just because I enjoy throwing guys out,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence out there right now which is awesome. I definitely think the last few days it’s allowed me to bring that confidence into the batter’s box.”
A small victory, but important to development. Kelenic’s focus is forward. He trusts the staff and is committed to the changes at the plate he is making.
“Now it’s about making that adjustment with my posture that is going to allow me, that those balls that I maybe I foul back, that makes me go late in the count, I’m barreling those balls in the gap or something like that and then it will take off,” he said.
He’s not pressing, which is a very good thing. Kelenic is in a good place to take that step forward, but ultimately the strikeout rate will have to go down and the results will have to follow. He’s confident they will as he has seen it at this level.
“I’ve already seen what I can do in a month,” he said referring to last September. “The first month wasn’t what I wanted it to be but that doesn’t mean I can’t have an unbelievable month this next month. Kind of like the road trip. You take it with a grain of salt, learn from your mistakes and find out what you can do better.”