Even with the prognosis of a second opinion on the injured right knee of Kyle Lewis still pending, the Mariners aren’t expecting their starting centerfielder to be on the field anytime soon.
Appearing on his weekly radio segment on ESPN 710’s “Danny and Gallant” show, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto didn’t offer an optimistic outlook. And that speaks to the severity of the situation surrounding the torn meniscus in Lewis’ troublesome right knee that cost him the first 17 games of this season and has required two previous surgeries.
“Much like we experienced coming out of spring training, anything that we do with Kyle, we’re going to make sure that we’re hypersensitive to his needs,” Dipoto said. “And we want him to have a long career here in Seattle and to thrive. My guess is that it is going to result this time in a bit of a prolonged absence. I am hopeful that we’ll see him again this year on the field, but I don’t think it’s going to be quick. So we’re going to take our time, identify how we can help.”
The Mariners have not discussed the severity of the meniscus tear. But it’s possible that Lewis will need to have it surgically repaired immediately instead of trying to rehab and play with it this season.
“Kyle needs to make some decisions on what he wants to do,” Dipoto said. “But again, I don’t think this is going to be days and weeks. I think it’s going to be longer than that.”
If Lewis opts for surgery, it would be his third surgical procedure on the knee.
Manager Scott Servais had no updates in his pregame media session, saying they were still waiting to hear from Lewis on the results of the second opinion.
After trying to make a difficult leaping catch and landing awkwardly in the eighth inning of Monday’s win over the A’s, Lewis was removed from the game with discomfort in his knee. He underwent multiple tests on the knee afterward and an MRI on Tuesday morning revealed a tear.
It was the second time this season that playing defense has caused a knee issue. Lewis suffered a bone bruise in the right knee in the final week of spring training while trying to make a catch at the wall. He was forced to start the season on the injured list and missed the first 17 games. In 36 games since his return, he has a .246/.333/.392 slash line with four doubles, five homers, 11 RBIs, 16 walks and 37 strikeouts in 147 plate appearances. Over his last 10 games, he had a .289/.341/.500 slash line with two doubles, two homers, five RBIs, two walks and 10 strikeouts in 41 plate appearances.
The knee problems started in his first professional season after being taken with the 11th overall pick in the first round of the 2016 draft.
On July 19, 2016, Lewis suffered a gruesome knee injury in an awkward play at home plate while trying to avoid a collision with a catcher. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament as well as a torn medial and lateral meniscus. It required season-ending reconstructive surgery the following month.
Lewis moved near the Mariners’ spring training complex in Arizona to make the rehab process easier. He returned to the field on June 11, 2017. In his first official game of his return with Class-A Modesto, Lewis slammed that surgically repaired knee into the outfield wall while trying to make a catch. He suffered a bruised knee. Complications from the surgery and the bruised knee hampered Lewis throughout the remainder of the 2017 season. He played a total of 49 games, hitting. 257 with a .740 on-base plus slugging percentage, six doubles, a triple, seven homers and 31 RBIs. It also forced him out of participating in the Arizona Fall League after two games.
After the 2017 season, Lewis was still bothered by discomfort in the knee during offseason workouts. He opted to have surgery to repair the pad near his patella and remove a bone fragment early in February 2018, delaying his start to that season. He went on to play 86 games at the High-A and Class AA levels.
He played a full season without knee issues in 2019, making his MLB debut in September. He also had no issues in the shortened 2020 season, playing in 58 of 60 games.
Dipoto was asked about the prevalence of injuries with the Mariners, who have 14 players on the injured list.
“We have had a really tough couple of months,” Dipoto told ESPN 710. “And we’ve talked about it before. I guess it’s a thing with the league around us as well. This has been a really tough year for injuries and all the teams are experiencing it. And one of our general patterns of thought this year has been the team that stays healthiest has a chance among that middle pack, has a chance to wind up in the postseason at the end. You just want to have your best players on the field for the longest time and we’ve been unable to do that. But hopefully we’re able to turn the ship around in the second half and get some of these guys back and playing well.”
Dipoto was also asked about Jarred Kelenic’s struggles at the plate and the possibility of sending him back down to Triple-A Tacoma. The rookie outfielder is currently mired in an 0-for-27 slump and has a .111/.200/.422 slash line with two doubles, two homers, six RBIs, three stolen bases, seven walks and 20 strikeouts in 80 plate appearances.
“Anything’s possible as it’s necessary,” Dipoto said. “But I will say this about JK, he’s not going to BABIP .120 for the year. So he’s, he’s much better than that on a skill level.”
BABIP stands for batting average on balls in play and measures a player’s batting average exclusively on balls hit into the field of play, removing outcomes not affected by the opposing defense, specifically home runs and strikeouts. The league average for BABIP is roughly around .300. Kelenic’s lower BABIP does speak to some bad luck with teams making quality defensive plays against him on some hard-hit balls.
But he’s also looked a little out of sync at the plate, particularly in Tuesday’s loss where he struck out three times.
“It’s unfortunate,” Dipoto said. “I think before this homestand, especially the series with the A’s, the bats were really good. He’s hitting the ball hard, and he’s doing all the right things. And if you would have told me that, two and a half weeks into his major league career, he was going to have a 9% walk rate and a 25% strikeout rate, I’d say, ‘Sign me up, this is gonna go really well.’ For a rookie in this league and his age, with his experience, he is doing the right things. It’s just not resulting in hits. And it’s the first time he’s ever gone through this in his life.”
With the A’s starting tough lefty Sean Manaea on Wednesday night, Kelenic got the night off. Manaea threw a four-hit shutout vs. the Mariners in a 6-0 win. Dipoto has seen some anger and irritation from the ultra-intense Kelenic.
“You can see the frustration starting to build up, especially with this last series with the A’s,” Dipoto said. “It’s frustrating for a player who is used to not just getting a hit a night, but used to getting multiples. For him to go out and go through a stretch like this, where he’s now in a dry spell north of 20 plate appearances, I was proud of him in the first game of the Oakland series for going up there and taking his walks. I think that’s the key. That’s how you get out of these things.”
Kelenic was expected to start in center field on Thursday night.
“If you look at the best hitters in the world, when they get in their slumps, that’s what they do is they see more pitches until they feel comfortable,” Dipoto said. “Once they feel comfortable with their approach, the hits start to come again. And I don’t think that Jarred Kelenic is going to be a streaky Major League hitter. He’s a very consistent hitter with a good approach. He’s just right now a young player who’s trying to figure out how to slow it down a little bit. And my guess is he will, sooner than later.”
Relievers Drew Steckenrider and Kendall Graveman are out of COVID-19 quarantine. Steckenrider is with the team in Anaheim and could be activated in the coming days. Graveman will be slower in his return. He hadn’t pitched in six days before being quarantined, so he’s essentially not thrown in 17 days. He is back in Seattle and will be begin building up with bullpen sessions and live batting practice sessions before re-joining the team. It might not be until the Mariners return home after the three-city road trip.
Right-hander Robert Dugger will make the start in a bullpen game on Friday night. Lefty Hector Santiago is also expected to pitch in the game. Dugger will be starting in place of Justin Dunn, who went on the injured list with shoulder inflammation on Wednesday.