If you think Kyle Lewis is up there looking to slap singles to advance his season-long hitting streak, you’d be incorrect.
The Mariners’ most productive hitter didn’t really process the concept of a hitting streak, tallying hits in every game he’s played this season. So he certainly wasn’t going to worry about it extending it to 10 games in his final at-bat Sunday in the 3-2 defeat against Oakland.
After going hitless in his first three appearances, including a pair of strikeouts, Lewis stepped to the plate in the eighth with his team trailing 3-1 and veteran right-hander Yusmeiro Petit on the mound.
He watched a hittable 88-mph fastball on the first pitch pass by on the outside half of the plate without reaction. But the next pitch, another 88-mph fastball that stayed at the belt and on the inner half of the plate, well, that was turned into a projectile that followed a towering path and crashed down in the now empty area known as The ‘Pen and cut the A’s lead to 3-2. MLB Statcast measured the blast at 420 feet with an exit velocity of 107 mph. It was Lewis’ third homer of the season and first since the second game of the season.
“I wasn’t really aware of the hitting streak as far as like in the game,” he said. “And I’m not trying to keep the streak alive, but I felt like I wanted to see one (pitch). It’s late in the game and I didn’t want to rush and try to do too much early in the count. I wanted to try to get one over the plate and he left a fastball over the middle of the plate and I was able to get the barrel to it. I felt like I had been over-swinging throughout the day, so I just tried to keep it short, keep it simple.”
Lewis now has a 10-game hitting streak, which is tied with Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson as the longest in MLB. He also leads all of MLB with 17 hits in 10 games and 40 at-bats with nine RBI.
What does he attribute the hot start to?
“I think it’s just a change in mindset,” he said. “I’m trying to stay focused on getting a pitch to hit, being a little more patient at the plate, letting the count get deep and not being afraid to let the counts get deeper, things like that are kind of giving you a better rhythm at the plate and not being so jumpy and not be so antsy to rush to get hits.”
Given his production during his September call-up last season, when he hit six homers in his first 10 games and his hot start in the first 10 games of this season, teams are trying to mix things up when pitching to Lewis. The book on him is changing constantly.
“I think it’s flipping around,” he said. “They are trying different things right now. I’m just trying to not follow the pitchers around and just stay with what I want to do and stay with my approach as much as I can. You definitely notice throughout a series and as it develops, but they try to attack differently. But I stay with what I want to do.”
Seattle manager Scott Servais has marveled at Lewis’ progression even from last season to this season. The maturity of Lewis to know who he is as a player is not common for a rookie.
“I think it’s his ability to kind of stay in the moment,” Servais said. “He doesn’t get too far ahead or look behind at what’s happened. Even today, they made some good pitches against him and he was a little off. But he put that aside, walks up there and had a really good at-bat. This game, at this level, with all the information everybody has about you, teams are quickly making adjustments to try to figure him out. So that’s the kind of start, he’s gotten off to and that’s the kind of player he’s gonna be. And that’s what impresses me most about Kyle — he is in the moment, as much as any player that we have.”
The Mariners made a roster move before the game Sunday, recalling right-hander Erik Swanson from the alternate training site in Tacoma and optioning catcher Joe Odom back to Tacoma. That will return the Mariners’ bullpen to 11 relievers. Keeping Odom on the active roster became less necessary with Austin Nola returning to the lineup during this series against Oakland.
Swanson will give the Mariners another multi-inning reliever. While there seems to be an abundance of options in the bullpen, it isn’t unlimited. The Mariners’ initial plan is to avoid using pitchers on back-to-back days to try and keep them rested and healthy. And given the bullpen’s lack of experience, Servais still is experimenting with different relievers in different roles.
“We’re still trying to figure that out,” he said. “We do have a lot of guys down there, a lot of inexperienced guys that we don’t quite know what the roles are going to be as we go through the season. But that’s part of what we’re going through this year is to learn about our players, let them experience different things and how they handle it. We’ll continue to give them an opportunity to figure it out.”
With about 20 minutes before the first pitch and the August sun filling T-Mobile Park, the retractable roof began the slow process of closing.
Were there clouds coming in that couldn’t be viewed from the stadium? No. Was rain in the forecast? Not even the iPhone weather app could get the Sunday forecast of temperatures in the 70s with sun and some clouds wrong.
It was due to the social distancing protocols that force players to sit outside the dugout. Because the Mariners don’t have any tents or shaded areas where they are supposed to sit, the roof has to be closed for day games to provide relief from the sun.
Right-handed reliever Austin Adams has increased his activity level in workouts, but isn’t close to being activated from the 45-day injured list. He’s still building strength in his surgically repaired left knee, following a procedure to repair an ACL tear in October.
Per Servais, Adams is picking up the intensity in his throwing program and the hope is he can throw off the mound in the coming days.
“I’d love to get him off the mound or face some hitters before we go out on the road,” Servais said. “We just don’t have as much time or field access on the road as we did in the past, so to do a live BP or simulated game on the road is really challenging.”
Teams aren’t allowed to fly players into cities on commercial flights. They must travel on the team charter. So it’s likely the earliest Adams could be activated is Aug. 19 when the Mariners return from their upcoming road trip.