Fann: The Mariners are facing a Kyle Lewis conundrum

Aug 8, 2022, 12:55 PM | Updated: 2:31 pm
Mariners Kyle Lewis...
Kyle Lewis prepares to bat during a May 24, game between the Mariners and A's. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners will have some difficult decisions to make on Wednesday, which is when Julio Rodríguez and Dylan Moore are expected back from the 10-day injured list.

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Jarred Kelenic is likely to be sent back to Triple-A Tacoma. He was an emergency call-up last week when Rodríguez and Moore went down in the same game in Houston. Kelenic is 2 for 21 with one homer and two RBIs in seven games since being recalled. Another demotion isn’t the Mariners giving up on him, it’s just an acknowledgement that he’s the bottom guy on the totem pole right now, especially given Sam Haggerty’s ascension into what should be a guaranteed roster spot.

But who will be going back to the minors with Kelenic?

It isn’t likely to be Jake Lamb. That wouldn’t make any sense a week after Seattle acquired him at the trade deadline. Not only is Lamb Seattle’s primary backup third baseman with Abraham Toro now in Triple-A, but he’s also out of minor league options and would have to be designated for assignment. That’s not happening, just like Carlos Santana isn’t going anywhere despite minimal production of late (he’s just 4 for 24 over his last eight games).

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That leaves Kyle Lewis as the only logical move, and that undoubtedly stings to read for Mariners fans. The American League Rookie of the Year back in 2020 evidently still isn’t right after a pair of significant right knee injuries in his pro career, the latest of which kept him out from May 2021 to May of this year. Lewis, who returned on July 22 after missing nearly another two months due to a concussion, played in just one game out of four against the Angels over the weekend. The outfielder is rarely playing the field, and we’ve also seen him get pinch run for by the 36-year-old Santana.

Lewis’ limited availability makes his roster spot hard to justify with a logjam at the designated hitter spot. Santana and Mitch Haniger will need regular at-bats there. This is all before you get to Lewis’ lack of production. In 13 games since being recalled after the All-Star break, Lewis is hitting just .100 with one homer and two RBIs. He also has 17 strikeouts in just 40 at-bats (42.5%).

I’m not even sure you can call it a quick hook to send him down. Two-plus weeks without noticeable progress in health and availability is notable. And maybe it’s the team being careful with him and holding him back, but regardless, these playoff-hopeful Mariners can’t justify reserving a roster spot for a DH who has to be handled and utilized with so much care.

A rebuttal from many will surely be, “Just keep Moore in Triple-A and give Lewis additional time to get going.” We can all agree Lewis’ ceiling is higher. We’ve seen it. But Moore has earned his respect this season. Look beyond his .197 average to find a .350 OBP, a 116 wRC+ and a 1.4 fWAR. Add in his defensive versatility (he’s Seattle’s primary backup shortstop) and you get a well-above-replacement utilityman.

This isn’t to write off Lewis. I, along with the rest of you, hope that Lewis can once again return to form as a power hitting star in the making. Maybe he’ll regain some of that strength in Triple-A this month and contribute as a September call-up down the stretch. Maybe a healthy and productive offseason will have his body rejuvenated in 2023.

But it’s evident that he’s just not there right now, and the stakes of this playoff run are too high to give Lewis’ body the benefit of the doubt at this point.

Maybe I’m totally off-base and Seattle does opt to keep him in the big leagues a while longer. I’d happily hold that “L” if he turns it on and proves me wrong. But barring an unforeseen turn of events these next few days against the Yankees, the writing seems to be on the wall that Lewis will be back in Tacoma by the end of the week.

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