Drayer: No chasing numbers — Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic commits to his swing
Mar 29, 2023, 11:38 AM | Updated: 12:28 pm
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Four years in and nothing has changed. Nothing has dimmed the spotlight around Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic.
Struggles, disappointment, expectations fair or otherwise not met, no matter. From the first look in spring 2019, to the brash kid in 2020 camp hitting bombs and asking media members if they got the video, to the 2022 version – earnest, learned his lessons, possibly humbled, definitely accountable – the unmistakable talent to date has ensured that there really is nowhere for him to hide.
Kelenic’s struggles and potential successes will come under the spotlight.
That likely is OK with him. While his approach dating to call back up to the Mariners last September has, by appearances, been to put a chip on his shoulder, put his head down and go to work, he is as open as ever in talking about his process, once again giving a good look into the life of a hitter. You want to know where Jarred Kelenic is, he will tell you.
“Right where I want to be,” he answers.
How did he get there? There was an overhaul this winter that improved his swing, his focus, and above all his understanding of what he does and how he can be successful.
“It’s not really about the numbers.”
He continued: “I had a lot of coaches I worked with this offseason that that aren’t here in spring training, but there are people that I still talk to on a day-to-day basis.”
While he hasn’t publicly named the coaches, they are some of the biggest names in the business with long track records. Mariners hitting coaches were also involved in the circle.
“JD (Mariners hitting coach Jarret DeHart) has been great talking about at-bats and things that he’s seen,” said Kelenic. “And the biggest thing is just stay on top of it, even when I do have 2-for-3 days.”
The “it” Kelenic is talking about is his swing, which has been simplified and designed to give him the most room for error. Another change, his bat. Kelenic went for a bat fitting this winter, with the data and personal feedback indicating that with his swing, a different weight distribution could aid in barreling balls up. The results with the new model?
“My bat speed was quicker. It was just more effective than the bat I had been using and I am all on board,” said Kelenic. “It doesn’t really feel any different, it doesn’t look the greatest, but it allows me to stay inside the baseball a lot easier than when the bat is super end-loaded.”
The “feel” is the focus for Kelenic.
“There’s been times in spring training where I was 2 for 3, but my swing really wasn’t where I wanted it to be,” he said. “The numbers were a great day, but it’s not for me. It’s not really about the numbers. I want to make sure that my swing is in a position where I feel great. Like yesterday (March 25), I was 1 for 4, punched out twice, but my swing, I felt great. Yesterday, for me, it was a great day.”
A year ago, Kelenic would beat himself up over a 1-for-4, two-strikeout day. He’d question what he was doing, might even start making changes. Not focusing on the numbers, immediate fulfillment, allows him to see the bigger picture – which for a hitter is everything. Day-to-day numbers come and go. Confidence in a swing is more valuable.
“I want my swing to feel like it does in the cage,” he said, “and the way it feels in the cage, I want it to feel a certain way that felt all offseason. And if I’m not feeling that way, then that’s, regardless of the outcome, I don’t want that. I want to make sure that I’m feeling good regardless of the numbers, because I know that if it feels the way I want to, the numbers are going to come.”
For Kelenic, it has been all about chasing. Chasing baseball superstardom. Chasing goals set impossibly high. Chasing baseballs down and away with two strikes. This approach, letting the game come to him, is different.
“Yeah, just chasing numbers is tough,” he admitted.
Recognizing he was chasing was a big step forward for Kelenic. The swing – and most importantly understanding the swing, which took an offseason of work and study to accomplish – gives him the confidence to endure the 0 for 10s that are bound to come.
“I think it’s all comes down to just confidence and belief in what you’re doing,” he said. “I think anytime that anytime you panic, or, like, throw a temper tantrum or get frustrated, it’s like a sign that you’re starting to lose belief in what you’re doing. And so for me, my focus is I believe in what I’m doing. I know that it works. So regardless of what goes on out there, I know that if I have a bad game, I know what I need to do in the cage to get me right.”
It has yet to be tested in games that count, but for now, Kelenic sees what that has done for his mentality.
“It just slows everything down a little bit,” he said, “makes me more confident and relaxed. Because even though I go 0 for 4, my swing can feel great. And if as long as my swing feels good, it feels great and looks the way I want it to be, then I know that next day, I’m one swing away.”
An ask from the Mariners in late 2022 has also helped with his mentality. When Kelenic arrived in the clubhouse after his Sept. 22 call-up, he kept his comments to the media brief.
“I’m just here to do whatever the team needs me to do to help win,” he said. “If they need me to play left, right, center, make a catch, steal a base… If they need me to pitch, I will do it.”
At the time, I wondered if he was just saying what they wanted to hear, repeating their words. His play indicated that he was not. It turns out, being called up in that situation and given that direction turned out to be an “aha” moment for him.
“When I saw that it was right there at the table for us,” he remembered, “that all we had to do was basically put one foot in front of the other to get to the playoffs, I was like, ‘You know, yeah, my season didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but it’s not about me. It’s about all the guys in this clubhouse, all the players in this organization. That’s what it’s about.’ So I was like, ‘I gotta put me aside. I’ll handle myself in the offseason.’ And that’s it. I put all that aside, and I was like, ‘I’m just going be here. I’m going do whatever I can. You put me in left, right, center, doesn’t matter. And I’ll get the job done.'”
Armed with new knowledge of his swing, a new bat and perhaps a new and better confidence, that is his plan in 2023. The offseason, the solo work, that’s over. He looks forward to once again being part of a team.
“I mean, it’s everything,” he said. “After the (2022) season was done, it ended earlier than we wanted and, granted, I think we all needed a break. But you know, a week and a half, two weeks into the offseason, I know I can speak on behalf of myself that you miss coming in and seeing the guys. That’s what you do it for, and that’s what’s going to make us win a ton of games this year and potentially win a World Series, is because we do it for the guys in the clubhouse.”
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