PEORIA, Ariz. — Is it too late for Jarred Kelenic to play himself back into consideration for the Mariners’ opening-day left-field job?
Well, to be clear, Kelenic doesn’t feel like he should’ve been removed from consideration even if he hasn’t been participating in any workouts or Cactus League games since being diagnosed with an adductor muscle strain in his left leg March 6. He suffered the injury the day before while sprinting to first base.
Since, he’s been reduced to recovery and rehab programs with the team’s training staff and performance coaches as the rest of the team went about business as usual and the competition for the left-field spot has focused on Taylor Trammell and Jake Fraley. At the time of diagnosis, Kelenic declared he would be back playing in seven days.
To his frustration, he couldn’t make that prediction a reality though it seems he feels he wasn’t allowed to make it happen.
On Sunday, the eighth day since undergoing the MRI on the leg, he was finally cleared to return to the field for batting practice. He’d been hitting in the cages in the previous days. He has yet to do any running on the bases.
Asked where exactly he suffered the strain in his leg — the upper or lower part of the adductor — Kelenic replied, “It doesn’t matter. I haven’t had any pain there in days. It’s fine. I feel good. I’m 100 percent.”
He looked good, putting on his typical hitting display during batting practice. With Ichiro pitching, Kelenic sprayed laser line drives all over the field and hit some mammoth home runs to center field, right field and even left-center.
He didn’t look injured. And it’s clear, he doesn’t think he’s injured.
“He continues to progress rapidly,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s moving in the right direction.”
For Kelenic, it’s not so much the direction. It’s the estimated time of arrival back into spring training games and to the big leagues.
The Mariners had a meeting with the medical staff, Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto to implement a plan for getting Kelenic back into games.
Asked if he was given a date when that will happen, Kelenic replied, “yeah” with a shake of his head.
So the return date isn’t quite as soon as you think it should be?
Kelenic gave a smirk and said, “No comment.”
Sometimes that can say more than an actual answer. But Kelenic wisely did not want to voice any complaints on the record about the situation. He certainly knew better than accusing the Mariners of slow-playing his injury so they have an excuse to not put him on the opening-day roster.
The Mariners played their 14th game of spring training Sunday — the halfway point of the Cactus League season. Even if Kelenic was allowed to return to game action by Thursday or Friday, it would leave about 10 games for him to try and make a late push for the roster. But it’s also unlikely the Mariners would allow him to play every day, not wanting to re-aggravate the leg injury and also needing game reps for other players.
This is just another chapter in the continuous push and pull between the Mariners’ front office and their prized outfield prospect on his Major League debut. It’s been palpable since a few days before the shortened 2020 regular season was slated to begin. According to Kelenic’s agent Brodie Scoffield, Kelenic met with Servais, Dipoto and other staff members. He was told he wasn’t making the 2020 team despite dominating during summer camp and that he wouldn’t be called up from the alternate training site under any circumstance.
Even though the Mariners went into the season with only two true outfielders — Kyle Lewis and Mallex Smith — on the opening-day roster and planned to use utility infielders at the corner outfield spots, they felt Kelenic needed more development time before debuting in the big leagues.
With players receiving three days of MLB service time for every day spent at the MLB level in 2020, Scoffield believed the Mariners were manipulating his service time to delay his eligibility for free agency and punishing him for spurning a long-term contract extension made early last offseason. Scoffield also told USA Today that the Mariners offered a quid pro quo, telling Kelenic that if he signed the contract that he’d be on the opening-day roster in 2020. Dipoto has vehemently denied that offer was ever made.
Had the Mariners put Kelenic on the opening-day roster, he would’ve been on target to be a free agent after the 2025 season. By not calling up Kelenic in 2020, they prolonged it until after the 2026 season. If they limit Kelenic’s service time days to under 172 games in 2021, he won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2027 season.
When former CEO and president Kevin Mather made his infamous speech to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club, he basically confirmed that even though they invited several of the top prospects like Kelenic, Logan Gilbert, Julio Rodriguez and others to summer camp and were included in the team’s limited player pool in 2020, they weren’t going to call up any of them regardless of circumstance, including a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak.
Other dings and dents
The outlook for Roenis Elias pitching for the Mariners in the 2021 season appears to be rather bleak. The veteran lefty returned to the organization for the third time in his career. Signed to a minor-league contract, he seemed poised to make the team out of spring training as a long reliever.
But Elias left Thursday’s game vs. the Dodgers with discomfort in his forearm and elbow. After undergoing an MRI on Friday morning, the Mariners wouldn’t give an official medical update on the injury. Per Servais, Elias is in the process of contacting other orthopedists to get a second and third opinion on the injury after meeting with the Mariners’ medical staff.
“He’s kind of trying to look at different options,” Servais said. “He’s got a pretty serious issue in his elbow/forearm area.”
Outfielder Jake Fraley was scratched from the starting lineup for Sunday’s game with the Brewers after colliding with the wall on a fly ball during Saturday’s game in Scottsdale.
“He’s stiff today as expected,” Servais said. “He hit the wall pretty good. I decided to scratch him (Saturday) night after the game when I talked to the trainers. I think he will get some of the stiffness out and be back in there (Monday).
After many games of six or seven innings, the remainder of the spring training games will be scheduled for nine innings, starting Sunday. However, managers can mutually decide to shorten a game to seven innings due to pitching availability. Both teams must notify MLB of a change to game length by 2 p.m. the day before.
The three batter minimum for pitchers will start to be enforced and also teams are not allowed to “roll” or end an inning without recording three outs. Before Sunday, teams could end the inning early if the pitcher reached 20 pitches in the frame.