It isn’t just the youthful energy of being a rookie in the first month of his major-league career. No, Jarred Kelenic’s passion for the game of baseball and his love of competing makes his anticipation for every game, regardless of the level, palpable.
But after not being in the starting lineup in the defeat Sunday against the Padres — the first time since making his debut May 13 — Kelenic’s desire to be back hitting at the top of the order and playing left field for the series opener Monday in Oakland had grown.
Following the initial hype of the Mariners’ top prospect being called up to the big leagues and the euphoria of his second game that featured a homer for his first MLB hit and two doubles, Kelenic was given a day off — he did pinch-hit Sunday — to kind of reset and clear his head. It’s been a whirlwind. While he always wants to play, he found a day spent mostly in the dugout watching the action as useful.
“I have learned so much in the first six, seven days that I’ve been up in the big leagues,” he said. “I felt yesterday was a day where I could almost hit pause and take all that information and start to dissect everything that I had learned. So that’s why I’m so excited to get out in the field tonight, because, you know, I’ve had a chance to sit down, think about everything and now apply it.”
That was the hope for manager Scott Servais when he made the decision to give Kelenic the day off. The rookie had been grinding through some games with solid at-bats but minimal results.
“He’s learning a ton,” Servais said. “I’ve seen it just in the eight or nine games he’s played. He’s starting to grab hold I think more than anything kind of the speed of the game. It can speed up on you very quickly in the batter’s box or in the field. The more he plays the more experienced he gets and the more comfortable he’s going to get. He’ll be able to slow it down. But I think an off day for a young player like he had yesterday is valuable. It’s kind of a deep breath to just watch the game and think the game.”
Kelenic hasn’t had the expected success after his monstrous second game. In his first nine games, he has a .139/.205/.278 slash line with two doubles, a homer, three RBI, a stolen base, two walks and eight strikeouts.
As a hitting prodigy, he isn’t used to have a batting average in the .200s and certainly never in the .100s.
“To be completely honest with you, I’m really trying not to focus on my batting average or any of those numbers because it’ll all even itself out,” Kelenic said. “I could go out tonight and go 4 for 4 with a home run, a double and two singles or something like that and now we’re making progress and we’re pretty close to where I was after the second game of the year. It’s still super early. I’m not trying to look into it too much. The only thing I can control is sticking to my approach and competing each and every night.”
What is that approach?
“It’s sticking to the big part of the field, trying to stay left center, especially with the pitchers really nibbling on the outside corner, soft and hard, recently. Anytime I try to pull a baseball or anytime anyone tries to really pull a baseball, I think you can get a little big there. Your hands can get away from you and you get jammed a little bit. If I can just stick to the big part of the field, keeping my hands inside the baseball, driving it to the left-center gap, we’re sitting pretty good.”
Kelenic isn’t swinging and missing many pitches and he’s not striking out. But he is hitting a lot of balls right at fielders.
“I feel like I had a lot of bad luck,” he said. “I’m putting balls in play and they’re just not going my way. Yesterday I came into pinch-hit, they had shifted me on the right side, there’s one guy on the left side of second base, and I hit the ball right between his legs. It’s the game of baseball. Hopefully I go through a phase here where I can’t get out. Because right now I haven’t been able to get a hit. I’m just trying to stay positive in this time and stick to what got me here because I’ve had success along the way. The game doesn’t really change.”
The Mariners activated Ty France from the 10-day injured list before the game. He was inserted into the starting lineup at first base. Servais said France had no limitations in terms of playing time or being used in the field.
To make room for France, utility player Sam Haggerty was placed on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation.
The Mariners claimed infielder Travis Blankenhorn off waivers from the Dodgers and assigned him to Class AAA Tacoma.
Blankenhorn, a utility infielder, has played in two MLB games and was the No. 27 prospect in the Dodgers’ organization.