PEORIA, Ariz. — Yes, it was a Cactus League game. Yes, the Mariners lost, 9-6, to the Rockies and, after a solid start from Justus Sheffield, the pitching ranged somewhere between forgettable and abysmal.
And, yet, for Mariners fans searching for something to grab onto in a season where 100 losses are expected and another year without the postseason is a given, there was a day like Monday.
On a cool and somewhat windy afternoon at Peoria Stadium, fans got to see a sanguine taste of a brighter Mariners future. Because the game wasn’t televised, the rest of the Mariners fan base will have to scour social media for highlights or perhaps daydream of what it looked like.
Whatever the method, two of the Mariners’ key prospects in this “step-back” rebuild provided delicious inspiration, even if just for one spring game, that the plan engineered by general manager Jerry Dipoto and agreed to by ownership might actually work.
Evan White, who will be the Mariners’ opening-day first baseman, and Jarred Kelenic, who is expected to be the Mariners’ opening-day center fielder in 2021 and possibly on the team before that, offered some verification for the organization’s optimism of better days, combining for four hits and four runs batted in.
“We’ve seen a lot of good things on a consistent basis,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “We are here to take a look at all these guys and we are definitely getting a good look at them.”
It wasn’t so much the numbers, but how they did it.
After missing four games with minor groin tightness, White, who is rated as the Mariners’ No. 3 prospect, returned to the lineup and notched two run-scoring hits. With the infield drawn in and Dee Gordon on third, White smacked a single through the left side to score a run in his second at-bat.
“That’s something that Joe Thurston worked with me on in High-A (Modesto),” White said. “I would try to do too much and swing at crap. That first-pitch slider I saw, I would have swung at it all the time in High-A. That was improvement. Stay in the middle, stay easy. I wasn’t trying to hit it on the ground, but it happened to work out.”
Later in the inning, he raced from first to third on a Kyle Seager single, showing his underrated speed and no sign of the groin tightness.
“It felt good,” he said. “The most exciting thing was going first to third. I felt good. Not sure if I was moving too fast.”
In White’s third at-bat, he crushed a towering fly ball to deep center. It looked like a homer off the bat, but the wind stymied its trajectory. He instead settled for a run-scoring double off the wall.
“I thought I got it, to be honest with you,” White said. “I got a good pitch and put a good swing on it.”
Kelenic, who is rated as the No. 2 prospect in the organization, entered the game in the sixth inning. He got two at-bats and made them count. In his first at-bat, he hammered a line drive into the gap in left-center. He never slowed down, thinking double off the bat. But center fielder Bret Boswell made a nice play to cut the ball off and fire to second to get a sliding Kelenic easily.
“When I was halfway there, I was like, ‘OK, I’m screwed,'” he said. “But right away when I hit something, it’s always double out of the box. I should’ve picked my head up. I thought it was going to get past him. If he doesn’t make a good throw, I’m safe. It was worth trying.”
It was Kelenic’s last at-bat that will have M’s fans and prospect geeks drooling and Mets fans lamenting.
With his parents and other members of his family in attendance, Kelenic obliterated a first-pitch fastball from Alexander Guillen, sending a vapor path over the wall in right-center, over the grass berm and onto the sidewalk.
“Crushed that one, huh?” he said jokingly. “They’re the best.”
Prior to the homer, Kelenic stood in the on-deck circle and told Carson Vitale, the Mariners’ field coordinator, what was going to happen.
“I called it in the most non-arrogant way possible,” he said. “I looked at his fastball. And I just said to Carson, our field coordinator, ‘Listen man, if I get one heater, I’m going to hit it out. I swear.’ The rest is history.”
After the game, he immediately ventured down the left-field line to talk to the large group of family members about plans for later.
“It’s fun, but my family means more to me,” he said. “They were really excited. My parents rented a house out here and I’m looking forward to going to hang out with them.”
• The Mariners decided to have right-hander Taijuan Walker pitch in a “B” game or simulated game Wednesday instead of traveling to Tempe and starting against the Angels.
“We play the Angels a lot during the season,” Servais said. “I explained that to Taijuan and he gets it. First time out, let’s get him rolling. He’s going to see the Angels a lot this year. Typical of what we do in spring training once in a while.”
• Dipoto announced right-handed reliever Matt Festa will undergo Tommy John surgery in New York. Dr. David Altchek will perform the procedure. Festa felt discomfort in his elbow after throwing an initial bullpen upon arriving to spring training. The Mariners reassigned Festa to minor-league camp Sunday.
• The Mariners cut eight nonroster players out of big-league camp Monday afternoon, reassigning them to minor-league camp:
- Right-handed pitchers: Jack Anderson, Darren McCaughan, Wyatt Mills, Penn Murfee.
- Infielders: Jordan Cowan, Connor Hoover.
- Outfielders: Eric Filia, Luis Liberato.
With the roster moves, Seattle now has 62 players in MLB camp.