Drayer: Is Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic finally letting the game come to him?

Sep 27, 2022, 11:07 AM

Mariners Jarred Kelenic...

Jarred Kelenic rounds the bases after hitting a home run against the Oakland A's on Sept. 22, 2022. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Perhaps the one bright spot in the otherwise disaster of a road trip for the Mariners was the performance of Jarred Kelenic.

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It has just been four games since his return from Triple-A, but in those four games much of the promise that had Kelenic atop prospect lists has been on display, coming when the team has needed it the most.

“I like where Jarred’s at right now,” manager Scott Servais said Sunday in Kansas City. “He’s done exactly what we hoped he could do with Julio (Rodríguez) going down. At times young players can try to do too much. I don’t think he is right now. He’s making adjustments. That’s what you are looking for, that’s what he’s doing right now.”

While it is too soon to say whether or not this is the moment that Kelenic breaks out, there are encouraging signs that it could be. First and foremost, what we are seeing isn’t what we saw in the past. We are seeing change. At the plate, he looks different, his setup simplified and with a more controlled leg kick on his swing.

“He’s made some adjustments to his setup and load,” hitting coach Jarret DeHart said on the Mariners Radio Network pregame show. “He wanted to start in a more balanced 50/50 position to really just allow him to be the athlete he is.”

These are adjustments he made at Triple-A, adjustments he has found success with. Kelenic had an 11-game hitting streak going with the Tacoma Rainiers when he got the call to help the big league team, and he has continued hitting in each of his four games up, going 6 for 16 with three doubles, a home run, two walks and just three strikeouts.

Also contributing to the success, his approach. Remember the tales of bomb-show batting practices Kelenic would take, seemingly looking to put his power potential on full display? They are gone. Servais has thrown BP to Kelenic in his return and sees a big difference.

“It’s a lot more controlled,” he said. “I think at times when young players get to the big leagues, all of a sudden, ‘I want to feel good, I’m going to start juicing balls.’ When they start hitting pull-side home runs in BP, it’s not always a good thing. I don’t think I have seen him hit a pull-side home run in batting practice in the four days I’ve thrown to him. He’s trying to hit a ball dead center field. It does look different. You don’t always know if you are going to get the results right away but his approach is good, he is in a really good headspace right now. His mind’s in the right spot.”

DeHart agrees.

“A lot of the improvements we are seeing from Jarred too are coming from the mental side,” he said. “He tends to put a lot of pressure on himself. His expectations for himself are higher than anything we can imagine. He’s really hard on himself. I think he is in a situation now, his year in the big leagues is what it is. He’s not going to end hitting .300, so he’s kind of surrendered the result side of it and really just focused on helping the team win. When you are in that frame of mind, it’s a lot easier to play well.”

Put that way, Kelenic being “here to do whatever I can do to help the team win,” answers seem to carry more value than the usual sports cliches. In observing Kelenic up close the last three years, it always struck me that he really wanted to be all about team. His performance didn’t always say that. Getting too wrapped up in his personal struggles, while understandable, was bound to have an effect on team. Trying to go big when the team needed smaller at the plate also wasn’t helpful. He seemed to get that when he talked about the Mariners’ 6-5 comeback win in his walkoff interview Saturday in Kansas City.

“Just stay patient, stay consistent, swing at good pitches and just kind of pass the baton,” he said. “That’s kind of my goal right now. Selling out, trying to get your pitch. We talk about all the time handing the baton off to the guy behind you. Any time you can do that it, it’s a good thing. You are probably going to win.”

He reiterated this when he talked about the performance that day of Cal Raleigh, who went 2 for 3 with a home run, a double and three RBIs off the bench.

“The best thing about what he did tonight was he stayed patient. He waited for a good pitch to hit and the results speak for themselves.”

The patience is the key. Rather than chasing with every wild swing, every bit of extra intensity, are we now seeing Kelenic finally let the game come to him? It is far too soon to make that call, but impossible to deny what we are seeing right now is incredibly encouraging both for Kelenic and the team.

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