PEORIA, Ariz. – When the Mariners announce their starting lineup Thursday night at T-Mobile Park, following the opening-day tradition of each player jogging down the red carpet from outfield fence to the first-base line, there is a strong possibility someone other than Kyle Lewis will be announced as the starting center fielder.
Saturday afternoon, about four hours before the Mariners would play the Giants — the team they also face on opening day — manager Scott Servais was asked about Lewis’ absence from the starting lineup for a fifth consecutive game after banging his knee against the outfield wall Monday against the Dodgers.
Servais admitted that Lewis, the reigning American League rookie of the year and the projected cleanup hitter in the Seattle lineup, might not be ready to start the 2021 season. Initially, the Mariners thought the issue was minor and kept Lewis out of the lineup as a precaution. But the knee has not responded to treatment and rest.
“I don’t think any of us were concerned early on,” Servais said. “He did have some more tests on it and he’s got a pretty deep bone bruise is I guess the best way to describe it. It’s on the outside of his right knee.”
The Mariners have Sunday off and then their final game in Goodyear against the Reds. Lewis isn’t expected to play in that game either.
“Based on where we’re at, we’re gonna try to get that calm down as quick as we can,” Servais said. “But being this close to opening day, and again I just got this news a little while ago. we’ll have to wait and see how it goes. Is he going to be available by opening day? I’m not sure. I’m as surprised as anybody based on what we thought here the first couple days, but it makes sense and it hasn’t really responded the way he or the training staff was hoping it would. But we are getting close to opening day, so I guess it puts that in jeopardy a little bit.”
A year ago, Lewis, along with Kyle Seager, was responsible for most of the Mariners’ run production. The return of Mitch Haniger and Tom Murphy and the addition of Ty France were supposed to give the lineup more depth. But not having Lewis in there behind Seager is glaring.
After starting slow this spring, Lewis had six hits in his last 15 at-bats, including three doubles, a triple, a homer, three RBI, a walk and no strikeouts.
“I thought he was really starting to get his timing rhythm at the plate,” Servais said. “He was hitting the ball great. I really felt good about where he was and certainly this is a setback. He hasn’t played in the last four or five days now and he won’t play (again) down here in the Cactus League. We’ll have to wait and see when he can get back. I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole. Hopefully he can knock this out and be back with us soon, but it’s concerning.”
The Mariners will exit Arizona after the Monday afternoon Cactus League finale and head to Seattle. They’ll have Tuesday off with optional work for players and then a regular workout Wednesday. Even if Lewis’ knee starts to come around, he will have gone nine days without game action. Is that too long for him to have success?
“All players are different timing-wise,” Servais said. “I don’t want to get too far down the road. I don’t know how long it’s going to take him to calm this down. Is there a chance to be back for opening day? Is it a week into the season? I don’t know. So I don’t want to speculate on what it’s going to take to ramp him up, or whatever. One thing I do know, he’s not going to be out there until he feels 100% secure and training staff and doctors do as well.”
If Lewis were to start the season on the injured list, which seems like a strong possibility, the Mariners would have some roster decisions to make. They do have some positional flexibility. Taylor Trammell, who was projecting to be the opening day left fielder, was starting center field Saturday night. He started there Friday and Wednesday in Lewis’ absence and has started six games there this spring. Jake Fraley also has played center field and Braden Bishop, who recently was optioned to the alternate training site, is the best available defensive center fielder.
The Mariners could reasonably go into the season with Trammell in center, Fraley in left field and Haniger in right, with Jose Marmolejos, utility player Sam Haggerty and second baseman Dylan Moore as potential fill-ins when needed.
And, of course, who could forget about Jarred Kelenic? The Mariners’ prized outfield prospect has started 128 games in center field in the minor leagues. He was reassigned to minor-league camp Friday, but the Mariners can still select his minor-league contract and add him to the 40-man active roster if they put Lewis on the injured list. But given the potential reasons for not putting Kelenic on the opening-day roster — development, experience or service time — it seems unlikely that this would change the Mariners’ thinking with Kelenic.
MLB sources indicated that general manager Jerry Dipoto already had been searching the market for a potential left-handed bat to play left field so they could certainly pivot and look for a center fielder to fill in for a short period. There are expected to be a series of veteran players available on the market with teams deciding on their opening-day rosters in the coming days. One potential candidate is veteran Cameron Maybin, who played briefly with Seattle in 2018 and was released by the Cubs on Saturday.
During the game broadcast Saturday on ROOT Sports, Servais did an in-game interview with Dave Sims and Mike Blowers. He announced that Trammell had made the opening-day roster and will start in either left field or center field, depending on the health of Lewis. Servais said that Trammell broke down in tears upon hearing the news.
- Servais also said in his television interview that right-hander Justin Dunn won the spot as the sixth-starter over Nick Margevicius, who will move to the bullpen and serve as a long reliever. Earlier in the spring, Servais was against such a move, saying he didn’t think they’d need a long reliever. But he also doesn’t have final say on the roster. That belongs to Dipoto.
And another expected roster decision that Servais confirmed was that right-hander Will Vest, Seattle’s Rule 5 draft choice, has made the team. After some early struggles, he’s pitched well of late, showing a fastball with a lot of life and high spin rate and a nasty changeup.
- The Mariners made two roster moves Saturday afternoon, optioning right-handed relievers Joey Gerber and Erik Swanson to the alternate training site. Seattle has 31 players left in big-league camp and must get down to 26 players.
- Before the game, Servais announced the projected starters for the opening series vs. the Giants. Marco Gonzales will start on opening day for the third consecutive season. Left-hander James Paxton will pitch Friday night while right-hander Chris Flexen will pitch Saturday in the series finale.