OAKLAND, Calif. — The moment of postgame celebration, spontaneous in its action and the acknowledgment from fans, was perhaps the most joy Jarred Kelenic felt on a baseball field and a defining image of last season’s improbable but failed run at a postseason slot.
Just under a year ago, Sept. 29, 2021, to be exact, Kelenic hit a big two-run double to help the Mariners defeat the A’s, 4-2.
Following his on-field postgame interview, Kelenic grabbed one of the yellow signs with the word “Believe” on it — the mantra of that late-season run — and held it proudly above his head, much to the delight of the fans still remaining at T-Mobile Park.
While the Mariners fell short of the postseason, Kelenic’s solid performance during that magical September seemed to be the start of an expected MLB career that seemed predetermined as a one of baseball’s top prospects.
Now, 357 days later, Kelenic returns to the Mariners as a failed prospect and a humbled player, somewhat forgotten in the Mariners’ future plans at the ripe old age of 23.
On Wednesday, the Mariners made a series of roster moves, recalling Kelenic from Class AAA Tacoma, selecting the minor league contract of Luis Torrens, optioning Taylor Trammell to Tacoma and designating infielder/outfielder Jake Lamb for assignment.
“I’m here now and I’m just gonna do whatever I can to help this team win,” Kelenic said quietly. “Whatever they need me to do, if they need me to pitch, I’m ready to pitch. It’s whatever they need me to do, I will be ready.”
Kelenic was not in the starting lineup on Wednesday, but manager Scott Servais hinted he could be used as a defensive replacement or pinch runner, presumably for left fielder Jesse Winker, and would likely start in Thursday afternoon’s series finale.
“Jarred has put together a pretty good run at Triple-A,” Servais said. “He’ll get a chance to play. He will probably not play every day for us, but we’ll mix him in and it gives us the opportunity to give guys a break. He plays good defense. He runs the bases well. And he can do some things at the plate.”
Kelenic admitted that last September was the most fun he’d had on a baseball field.
“For sure, to be around a great group of guys in that clubhouse, and trying to do it with (Kyle) Seager, who had never been to the playoffs, it was a lot of fun,” he said.
“I’m definitely looking forward to going to war with these guys,” he said. “It’s an exciting time in Seattle and in this locker room right now.”
This will be Kelenic’s third stint at the MLB level, having spent the bulk of 2022 with the Rainiers. After making the opening day roster, he struggled to the point of being sent down on May, having posted a .140/.219/.291 slash line with only 10 hits, including two doubles, a triple, three homers and 10 RBI in 96 plate appearances. Kelenic struck out 36 times with nine walks in that span.
Given his staccato and shortened development path to the big leagues, the Mariners wanted Kelenic to work on recognizing and making more quality contact on breaking pitches, developing a better two-strike approach and to simplify things in his approach and swing.
He dominated Triple-A pitching for extended periods, but was not called up when outfielders struggled or were injured. The Mariners wanted to see sustained and consistent commitment to those changes.
When Julio Rodriguez went on the injured list with a bruised hand, Kelenic was recalled and appeared in 10 games, getting just two hits in 27 plate appearances with a two-run homer and 11 strikeouts. He was optioned back to Tacoma and the possibility of him returning seemed unlikely despite putting up gaudy numbers with the Rainiers.
Over his last 15 games with Tacoma, he had a .350/.412/.650 slash line with six doubles, four homers, 11 RBI, six walks and four stolen bases. In 86 games with the Rainiers, he posted a .296/.366/.557 slash line with 32 doubles, three triples, 18 homers, 65 RBI, 35 walks and 82 strikeouts.
“It’s been a really good last couple of weeks,” Kelenic said. “I went through a rough patch probably like three weeks ago and made a good adjustment.”
How did he get out of the rough patch? He talked with teammates, Tacoma hitting coach Rob Marcelino and also did some personal introspection on his swing and his approach at the plate.
“Everybody kind of has an idea of when something’s a little bit out of whack,” he said. “For me, I knew that, especially when I wasn’t performing, something wasn’t right and just working on getting back to where I wanted to be.”
Kelenic didn’t use too much video, which he said can be toxic at times, calling it a “feel thing.”
“The strikeouts have gone down a little bit,” Servais said. “The reports I’ve got is that he’s doing a better job of using the whole field to hit, a higher percentage of his hits are going to the opposite field. When he’s doing that, he’s staying on pitches. He’s staying through the middle of the field. The power has always been there for Jarred. No issues there, but using the whole field, having more consistent at-bats, have really been key.”
Servais has seen some video of Kelenic’s recent at-bats, seeing an improved approach as well as his simplified setup at the plate and a more controlled leg kick on his swing.
“He’s cleaned up a few things,” Servais said. “His last couple stints with us, he was constantly trying to make adjustments to find it. The most consistent hitters in this game are the ones who have the least amount of movement. It’s really hard to have the big leg kick and time it up perfectly. Especially when you’re a young player. Try to keep it simple and it looks like that’s what he’s done.”
Simple and clean?
“Anytime it looks clean and simple, I think that’s a good thing,” Kelenic said. “So for me, I’m just focusing on being consistent and doing my job.”