If there might be some sense of worry beginning to set in among Mariners’ fans as prized rookie Jarred Kelenic’s slump has deepened in recent days, manager Scott Servais sounded only notes of hope and optimism before the game Saturday against the Angels.
Kelenic, despite being in an 0-for-35 slump that according to MLB.com is tied for the longest hitless streak in the major leagues this year, was back in the lineup yet again despite increasing talk that maybe he needs some time off, if not sent down to Tacoma for some more seasoning.
The only indication that something is amiss is that Kelenic was moved down in the order to seventh, the lowest of any of his 21 starts with the Mariners.
Otherwise, Servais said it’s business as usual, and that he thinks all Kelenic is experiencing is the same growing pains all young players inevitably endure.
“It is going to end,” Servais said. “Jarred is a really good player. He’s going through a tough stretch right now.”
Some might consider that an understatement.
Since going 3 for 4 in his second game and eliciting hope that all the hype would immediately prove true, Kelenic has gone 5 for 71, an average of .070, before the game Saturday night.
The Mariners gave Kelenic a day off Wednesday against the A’s, but that didn’t help as he went 0 for 7 with five strikeouts and one walk in games Thursday and Friday.
The increasing rate of strikeouts might be the most concerning — he had eight in 12 appearances in three games in June before Saturday night. He had 17 in his first 76 plate appearances this season.
But if Servais sees a particular cause for alarm he isn’t yet revealing it.
“He certainly is struggling right now,” Servais said. “He is putting a little bit of pressure on himself, like all guys do when they struggle. It’s no different than anybody else. And that’s young guys. That’s for guys that have a couple of years in the league or are veteran guys. So, you know, we’ll evaluate it day-to-day like we did everybody else. But he did a heck of a job in center field (Friday night). You know, he made a couple of outstanding plays. He’s a good baseball player. He’s just not getting a whole lot of hits, and a lot of luck.”
Servais said he makes sure to talk to Kelenic every day and insisted Saturday that “he’s in a good frame of mind.”
But just to make sure, Servais also sometimes employs a few of the tricks he’s learned during his roughly three decades in the majors in one capacity or another.
The ROOT Sports telecast caught one of them Friday night, showing Servais talking to Kelenic in the dugout and Kelenic breaking into a grin.
Saturday, Servais explained he had asked Kelenic if he could talk to his bat.
“I do that with guys sometimes,” Servais said. “I was joking and got him to smile.”
In more serious moments, Servais says he tells Kelenic to hang in there, and that what he’s going through is no different than just about every other player to ever make it to the major leagues.
“You can sit down and talk with players,” Servais said. “But you have to experience it. When you talk about the big leagues and the adjustments it takes to perform at this level every night, no matter how talented you are when you start struggling, there’s doubt that creeps in once in a while. (Jarred) is no different than anybody else. I wish I had the magic dust to throw on top of him and everything would be OK. But you’ve got to work your way through it.”
And Servais insisted that will soon happen.
“He is going to get another hit,” Servais said. “He’s going to get it going in the right direction. … The big thing is, don’t worry about it. Just keep playing.”
Mariners make bullpen moves
The Mariners made a couple of expected roster move to shore up their bullpen Saturday, reinstating Drew Steckenrider from the injured list and adding recently acquired Yacksel Rios. Both are right-handers.
The two took the spots of righty Robert Dugger and left-hander Daniel Zamora, who were each optioned to Tacoma.
The moved helped replenish Seattle’s relief corps after the bullpen start game Friday. Dugger went 2.1 innings in starting Friday while Zamora pitched two-thirds of an inning.
Steckenrider went on the COVID-19 injured list May 21 and forced to quarantine in San Diego but got out of quarantine this week and rejoined the team in Anaheim.
Servais said Steckenrider would likely be limited to pitching an inning for his first few appearances in his return.
The 27-year-old Rios was acquired by Seattle on Friday from Tampa Bay for cash considerations. He made 12 appearances with Class AAA Durham this season and has pitched in 66 major-league games in relief with the Phillies and Pirates.
“Really like his fastball-slider combination,” Servais said, noting Rios tops out at 95 to 96 miles an hour. “We’ll throw him out there (Saturday) if the situation calls for it.”
Dunn to miss just one start
Servais said Saturday that right-hander Justin Dunn is on track to make his next start. Dunn went on the injured list June 2 with right shoulder inflammation.
But Servais said Dunn “feels good” and the plan had been for him to skip one start and then return. That puts him on pace to return for a start Friday at Cleveland.