There it was again Thursday afternoon, another small snapshot — click, click — in a growing sequence of them featuring the new Jarred Kelenic. He pounded his hands together excitedly as he walked back to the Mariners dugout — two, three, four, five times — to celebrate another quality at-bat, and another small step forward in his maturation as a major-leaguer.
The Mariners’ 22-year-old rookie center fielder did his job in the fourth inning, lofting a ball the other way to left field for a sacrifice fly to score the Mariners’ first run Thursday against the Rangers.
The version of Kelenic the Mariners saw during his first major league call-up in May might not have been ready to deliver in that kind of moment.
“You know,” Kelenic said the night before, “the more and more I’m around this environment, you kind of have the mindset of, ‘If it doesn’t happen, if I don’t capitalize here, I’ll do it the next at-bat; if I don’t capitalize (again), I’ll do it next one; if I don’t capitalize today, I’ll capitalize tomorrow.’
“And that’s the fortunate thing while playing every day, is you get so many opportunities that — I think that’s something I struggled with early on when I first came up (in May). You know, every at-bat to me was kind of like a life-or-death situation. And now … I’m getting over stuff a lot faster.”
On Wednesday night, Kelenic scored the game-winning run on Luis Torrens’ walk-off hit against Texas, a run Kelenic created with a hustle double — click, click — to lead off the bottom of the ninth. He also was responsible for the Mariners’ first run in the sixth inning Wednesday when he drew a two-out walk with the bases loaded.
Had he been in that situation in May — bases loaded, two outs, his team trailing — he might have tried to hit the ball over Lake Washington. Looking back, he acknowledged he was trying too hard, trying too much, trying to do the impossible.
“Absolutely,” he said.
A much-hyped prospect, Kelenic was demoted to Class AAA Tacoma in early June and spent a month working through things. He was recalled to Seattle after the All-Star break. He made a couple of mechanical adjustments at the plate — he’s standing up straighter and wiggling his shoulders less — and he has been particularly productive in August.
Entering Thursday, he was hitting .278 with a .909 OPS, two homers, three doubles and four RBI in 10 games this month.
“Jarred’s a good player — I’ve said that since Day One,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Thursday. “He got off to a rocky start here. The expectations that he put on himself, that a lot of people put on and maybe they were not really fair, but they are what they are. In today’s world, everybody knows about young players, when they’re coming to the big leagues and what everybody’s looking for.
“… Now we’re starting to see him play and flourish and be the player that we know he can be. I don’t know what his numbers are going to look like (at the end of the season), and quite frankly I don’t really care. I’m just more excited about now he is headed down the right path — the arrow’s pointed up. He understands he’s gone through some struggles, by his own admission he got kicked in the teeth a little bit. And he’s now understanding the value and how you bounce back from that.”