Kelenic making adjustments vs. MLB pitching

May 19th, 2021

SEATTLE --  faced his first lefty on Monday, and while that sequence certainly didn’t have the stir of his breakout, three-hit game over the weekend, it was notable given that improvements against lefties were one of the reasons Mariners management cited as to why he didn’t break camp on the Opening Day roster.  

Kelenic saw just four pitches from Tigers reliever Gregory Soto, the last of which he dribbled to second base for an infield groundout. It was a mostly forgettable sequence, except for the drastic change to Kelenic’s stance, which featured his right (front) foot further towards the first-base side of the batter’s box, creating a significantly more open setup.  

For those who noticed, your eyes weren’t deceiving. Kelenic made an adjustment in Spring Training to see lefties better by creating this wider stance.

From the same camera angle at T-Mobile Park, Jarred Kelenic shows a more open stance against lefties than righties to help him see the ball better in those sequences.

“He did try a couple different things mechanically,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “That seemed to help him. I know he faced some pretty good lefties when he first started the season [at Triple-A] Tacoma and had success there. So, I was glad to see he is sticking with it.” 

Will the Mariners toy with lineup construction when they face a lefty starter, as they will Wednesday against Tarik Skubal? That remains to be seen.  

“He's going to be close enough to [Kyle] Seager and some other left-handed hitters, [players] at the bottom of the lineup. He'll get his share of seeing those guys and he'll have to make adjustments as it goes along.” 

Asked last week why Kelenic was called up now instead of earlier or later, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said that they wanted to see “a more pointed approach against left-handed pitching, particularly wanting to see him get experience against upper-level lefties who have the breaking ball.” 

Kelenic took that approach into Minors spring training and then Tacoma, where he went 3-for-9 against lefties with one walk, zero strikeouts and a booming homer in his first at-bat of the season. In his last full season, in 2019, Kelenic’s splits were noticeable: a .940 OPS against righties and .757 against lefties.

“I laughed out loud when he hit a homer in his first Triple-A at-bat off a lefty,” Dipoto said, “because that's about as appropriate to how Jarred Kelenic accepts challenges as you can imagine. And I'm sure he's going to be up for this next one, which is basically the best pitchers in the world, night after night.”

That brings us to the larger question of how pitchers are attacking Kelenic in the big leagues. Again, the sample size here is just 85 pitches over 22 plate appearances. But it was always going to be a curious topic given the anticipation of Kelenic’s arrival, his advanced hitting approach and that the Mariners immediately injected him to the top of their lineup.

Despite going 1-for-18 outside his epic game on Friday, when he homered for his first MLB hit, Kelenic isn’t whiffing a ton -- just seven times in 42 pitches he’s swung at (16.7%; league average is 26.8%), including only one whiff against breaking balls.

He also isn’t getting a ton over the plate to truly square up, other than the homer, which was a low-and-away splitter from Aaron Civale.

“I don't think pitchers want to get beat by anybody, whether they're hitting leadoff, hitting fifth, hitting seventh, hitting eighth,” Servais said. “Jarred is a really exciting player. He's on our ballclub. He's a Major League player right now. And they want to get them all out.

“He's finding his way and I'm excited about it. I love the energy he brings every day. He's a very hard worker. He's very into the game, and he's learning along the way. We're going to see some awesome nights. We're going to see some rough nights. That's what happens to all players.”