The swing seemed easy and smooth while still having plenty of speed to produce a violent result when the barrel of the bat meets the ball perfectly.
Jake Bauers has felt those swings in the past, but not enough at the major-league level, and he’s been feeling them in batting practice of late.
But the result?
Well, that’s something completely different.
Facing hard-throwing rookie Jackson Kowar for a second time Sunday afternoon, that swing on a 94-mph fastball on the first pitch of the at-bat produced a missile of a fly ball to right field that just kept climbing. It was still going up when it cleared the wall in right field, eventually splashing down in the fountains of Kauffman Stadium for a solo homer.
The prodigious blast yielded a crazy reaction from his teammates in the dugout. Tape-measure homers have that effect on players.
MLB Statcast measured the blast at 460 feet with a 112.2 mph exit velocity. It is the longest ball Bauers has ever hit at the MLB level and the longest homer for the Mariners this season. It is the longest homer by a Mariners player since Mike Zunino hit a 470-foot homer off Royals reliever Ian Kennedy on June 20, 2018, at T-Mobile Park.
The distance left Bauers a little stunned.
“I knew I got into it a little bit,” he said. “I didn’t know I had 460 in me. I think that part caught me off guard. But yeah, the swing felt good, obviously it felt good off the bat. It just felt good to finally pull one over the fence.”
Per Baseball Savant’s Statcast database, Bauers’ previous long homer came while playing for Cleveland on May 22, 2018. It was a 450-foot blast off a 94-mph fastball from Fernando Rodney. He wasn’t sure if he’d hit one farther in the minor leagues.
“We might as well call it the farthest I’ve hit,” he said.
The 112.2-mph exit velocity was his second hardest-hit ball of the 2021 season. On Saturday, he hit a line drive to right field that was called with a 112.3-mph exit velocity. On Sept. 7, he hit a foul ball that was 110.5 mph. All three were harder than any balls he hit in previous seasons.
It’s something that he’s worked on extensively with Mariners hitting coaches in recent weeks as his playing time dwindled. Once a Top 100 prospect with the Rays, he’s yet to find consistent production at the plate, particularly getting the ball on the barrel of the bat.
“If you look at my past 12 to 13 at-bats, there’s been a few that I’ve hooked foul that would have been homers, a bunch of flyouts to the warning track, even my first at-bat today,” he said. “I think we are on the right track.”
Manager Scott Servais credited Bauers’ continued commitment to work and making changes to his swing without consistent playing time to test them.
“It has not been easy for him,” Servais said. “A few months ago, I had a sit-down meeting with him and just gave him honest feedback on where we thought he was at in his career and asking him to make some adjustments from everything in his preparation, to how he’s going about his swing and making some mechanical adjustments. We’ve seen it in batting practice all the time. It had not showed up in the game yet. Our hitting coaches were very bullish on it, saying: ‘It’s coming, it’s coming.’ He’s started to hit some balls hard.”
Bauers turns 26 in October. And his future status with the Mariners is unknown. But the team likes versatility and has invested in trying to fix some issues.
“My big-league career so far has not been something out of a storybook,” he said. “It’s been a struggle to kind of establish myself, but I feel like we’re on the right track here. I feel like we’re working toward that. Every day something clicks, every day we make a little bit of adjustment, a tweak here or there and I feel like it’s coming along.”
Kyle Seager was out of the starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 28 – a span of 18 games – due to continued soreness in his right elbow.
Seager had a wayward throw in the first inning of Saturday’s game. He’s also scuffling at the plate with a .152/.282/.364 slash line with two doubles, four homers, 13 RBI, 12 walks and 14 strikeouts in that period.
He has appeared in 146 of the Mariners’ 149 games, starting 144 games total.
Dylan Moore started the game at third base while Abraham Toro moved into the No. 3 spot in the batting order.