This is the version of Jarred Kelenic that the Mariners projected when they acquired him as the centerpiece of that trade back before the 2019 season.
This outburst of offense in the three-game series in Kansas City and his overall showing for the month of September is the sort of production expected from fans and baseball experts when Kelenic made his much-anticipated debut in May.
Of course, the path to this point has been anything but linear. It’s been filled with missteps and failures, a sojourn back to Tacoma and a return that’s been a slow build to this weekend of success.
And in the end, it will likely make him, and ultimately the Mariners, better moving forward into next season and beyond. Kelenic capped a productive weekend at Kauffman Stadium, notching his second career three-hit game and driving in three runs, including his third homer of the series and leading the Mariners to a 7-1 win Sunday.
Since Sept. 1 Kelenic has a .288/.349/.650 slash line with four doubles, six homers, 15 RBI, six walks and 17 strikeouts in 60 plate appearances.
Kelenic’s big game was coupled with yet another strong start from fellow rookie Logan Gilbert, who improved to 6-5 in 22 starts this season. Using a fastball that averaged 96 mph and touched 98 mph multiple times and an improving slider, Gilbert pitched seven strong innings, allowing one run on just three hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
“The young pups led the way today,” manager Scott Servais said. “I think it’s very indicative of what we’ve talked of, what we’re building here in Seattle. We have a group of young players that we believe in. These are kind of the first couple to touch us. There’s more coming behind them. Seeing those young kids being relaxed, the confidence growing and really feel good about what we have to play for the rest of the season and beyond. These guys are going to be part of our future here for a long time.”
After a series win over the Royals, Seattle’s postseason hopes have a hint of a pulse, albeit a very faint one. With an 80-69 record and 13 games remaining, the Mariners sit four games back of the Blue Jays for the second wild-card spot with the Yankees and A’s still ahead of them.
In his previous outing against the Royals on Aug. 27, Gilbert gave up five runs on nine hits in five innings. It was his third of three straight subpar outings, leading some to believe he had hit a mental and physical wall.
But with Sunday’s strong outing, Gilbert has had four straight starts of allowing two runs or fewer. Over that span, he’s pitched 22 1/3 innings, allowing five earned runs for a 2.01 earned-run average with 23 strikeouts and three walks
“Logan Gilbert had been outstanding in the last three starts coming into this one and he carried it over today,” Servais said. “He threw the ball well against a team that obviously had hit the ball pretty good off him the last time he faced him. He was in total control and he put an exclamation point on it with the athletic play at the end so great, great outing for him.”
That “athletic” play featured Gilbert calling for and catching a soft looping pop-up on the infield grass with a lunging and tumbling dismount.
“That’s not how it usually ends,” Gilbert said. “I kind of surprised myself there, but I just really wanted the last out and saw it up in the air so I had to go get it. It usually feels more graceful than it actually is. I haven’t seen the video yet, but I’m sure it didn’t look as good as I thought it felt.”
After being held to only three hits in Saturday’s lackluster 8-1 loss, the Mariners made Royals hard-throwing rookie Jackson Kowar, their No. 2 pitching prospect, work from his very first pitch, refusing to help out his lack of command by chasing pitches. A one-out double from Ty France followed by back-to-back walks from Abraham Toro and Mitch Haniger loaded the bases for Kelenic.
Seeing Kowar struggle to find the strike zone, Kelenic showed a discipline that wasn’t existent earlier in the season, refusing to swing until Kowar threw him a strike, which came on the second pitch. After fouling off a 1-2 fastball, Kelenic didn’t chase a low fastball. With a 2-2 count and knowing Kowar had to throw a fastball, he jumped on a 97-mph pitch, sending a line drive off the wall in deep right-center to score two runs.
“Right now, I feel like I’m in a really good groove,” he said. “I’m really just gonna try to keep this going.”
Leading off the third inning, Kelenic made it 3-0, launching a solo blast to deep right-center. It was a similar display of patience from the young slugger. He didn’t chase an 0-2 changeup, worked the count back to 3-2 and then crushed a 97-mph fastball for his 13th homer of the season. Jake Bauers crushed a monster 460-foot solo homer to make it 4-0.
“My setup (at the plate), it’s a real comfortable setup,” Kelenic said. “And it’s just allowing my hands to work and see the ball so much better than I usually am. It’s a comfortable setup. And my hands are so quick that as long as I’m comfortable, and everything’s on time, I feel like my hands are fast enough to get to it.”
Seattle tacked on runs later in the game with an RBI single from France and Haniger’s 34th homer of the season.