It’s not fair to Kyle Lewis to make the comparison directly, but he plays baseball with such a casual easiness — and with such soothing joy — that it’s hard not to remind one at least a little bit of a certain Hall of Fame center fielder who starred in Seattle in the 1990s.
No, no one should think of Lewis as the next Ken Griffey Jr. Not yet. Not after a mere 47 major-league games.
But it’s fun to daydream, isn’t it?
Lewis, the Mariners’ 25-year-old center fielder, has emerged as the centerpiece of Seattle’s rebuilding efforts with a torrid first month of this truncated 2020 season. He has also positioned himself as the clear favorite in the race for the American League Rookie of the Year award, and Sunday he hit his seventh home run of the season in the Mariners’ 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers at T-Mobile Park.
At the midway point in this 60-game season, Lewis leads all major-league rookies in hits (39), batting average (.368), runs batted in (19), OPS (1.041) and home runs (seven, tied with Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox).
“That’s Showtime,” Mariners starting pitcher Justin Dunn said in a video call of his good friend. “Hopefully here in a couple months it’ll be ‘R.O.Y.’ He’s a blessed player and he’s been doing this for awhile. I’m glad for him to come out and do it on this level and for people to finally see and really understand what he can do on a baseball field.”
In his first at-bat, Lewis sent an inside slider from veteran left-hander Mike Minor into the Mariners’ bullpen beyond the left-field fence, giving the Mariners a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
Lewis had three hits and two walks in the Mariners’ 10-1 victory over the Rangers on Saturday, and he is tied for the lead in the AL with a .456 on-base percentage.
“Kyle’s seeing the ball great,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It’s very easy; he’s not swinging hard. You can see it. His effort level is in a perfect spot right now, understanding where he’s at and the pitches he’s looking for.
“I hope we can keep him there all year. It’s some kind of fun to watch and to see him mature and grow — and the confidence is rubbing off on some other guys, too.”
Dunn, the rookie right-hander, appeared as confident and comfortable Sunday as he’s been since his brief call-up with the Mariners last September. He was perfect through his first three innings; he was consistently able to get ahead of Texas hitters, which Servais had said pregame would be the key for Dunn in this one. In his first four starts this season, Dunn threw first-pitch strikes just 54.2% of the time, according to baseballsavant.com (the MLB average is 60.6%). On Sunday, he threw first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 21 batters he faced.
It added up to the best start of his young big-league career: six innings, one hit, one walk and a career-high six strikeouts, all on swings and misses.
“Glad to finally have that outing,” Dunn said. “I feel like myself again, and hopefully we can continue to build off it.”
Austin Nola hit his fourth homer of the season and rookie Sam Haggerty added the first homer of his major-league career as the Mariners (11-19) completed a three-game series sweep of the Rangers (10-17), who have lost eight in a row.
Taylor Williams, a Camas High School product, pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his sixth save of the season. The sixth save gives him the record for most saves in a season — and for an entire career — by a player born in the state of Washington, passing Karl Best from the mid-1980s.
Servais praised the work of the bullpen during this homestand, and in general said he’s been pleased with how well the Mariners have played in the first 30 games of the season.
“I’m super excited. I really am,” he said. “Again, not really knowing how this all was going to play out with our young players, and then (add in) everything else with the (COVID-19) protocols — that’s the thing that’s been quite a bit different that you all don’t get to see every day. Just the interaction is not the same. The clubhouse is spread out and not everyone is hanging out in the cafeteria, and that’s where a lot of really good baseball discussions (traditionally) happen. So I was a little worried about how that was going to progress as far as the development of players and talking the game, but what we’ve seen on the field, the number of young guys who have stepped up and grabbed hold of something here, it’s been great to see.
“And we’re going to find out even more here in the second half. So I’m really happy with the development. We all would’ve liked to win a few more games, but coming into the season it was all about the development of our players and make sure they continue to get better, and that’s what we’re seeing.”