Kelenic keeps mashing, homers in 4th straight game

April 15th, 2023

SEATTLE -- The 414-foot blast to straightaway center was much like the three that preceded it on this home run streak that’s gaining appreciable recognition beyond the Pacific Northwest. But the reaction and emotion from after his latest act on Friday was far more raw.

It’d been two days since his 482-foot blast at Wrigley Field that drew awe from anyone who witnessed it, yet in his very next at-bat to open a homestand, Kelenic followed up with a 107.4 mph shot that sent Seattle’s home crowd into a frenzy en route to a 5-3 win over Colorado.

Leading that charge with as strong of a reaction as any was Kelenic, who crow-hopped home plate and emphatically slapped his hands together while shouting toward his teammates, “Let’s go!” Upon submerging to the dugout, the hugs were tighter, the high-fives slapped harder and the smile was wider.

Kelenic has shown this unfiltered emotion before, but it’s been some time -- perhaps not since the final week of the 2021 season, when he and the Mariners inspired this region to “Believe.” For a player who’s been so deliberately stoic despite the team’s best Spring Training performance and a stellar start to the regular season, Friday’s fervor showed that Kelenic might be allowing himself to believe this is all real -- and sustainable.

“I’m just trying to simplify things and when you do it and it works out, it was sick,” Kelenic said. “The crowd’s reaction was sick. I would say that’s kind of why you probably saw a lot of emotion.”

Kelenic became the first Mariner to homer in four straight since Tom Murphy from Aug. 13-20, 2019, and if he homers on Saturday, he’d join Richie Zisk, Alex Rodríguez, Jay Buhner (twice) and Nelson Cruz (twice) as the only others to homer in five straight. The franchise best is eight straight -- which is also the MLB record -- co-held by none other than Ken Griffey Jr., who did so in 1993 when he was 23 years old, the same age as Kelenic.

“He loves playing baseball, and different guys show it in different ways,” manager Scott Servais said. “Julio [Rodríguez] has always got a smile on his face, he's kind of joking around. And Jarred is super intense, and that's Jarred, and when he's in a good spot, that's what he's doing.”

Also of note: Kelenic was in the lineup against a lefty starter for the first time this season, underscoring the trust that Servais has in riding the hot bat. The Mariners entered the year with pronounced platoon plans for Kelenic, who made just 10 of his 39 starts last year against lefties. For his career, his OPS against lefties (.464) was drastically below his mark against righties (.712).

On Friday against Colorado’s Austin Gomber, whom the Mariners chased after just 3 2/3 innings, Kelenic also ripped a 107.9 mph double into the right-field corner in the fourth inning and scored when Julio Rodríguez followed with a hustle double and a nifty slide.

“It's no different -- right-handed, left-handed,” Kelenic said. “To me, it's just being on time for the fastball is the most important thing, and if I can do that, usually I'll hit the ball hard.”

Of Kelenic’s 15 hits this season, nine have been for extra bases, which has led to a slash line of .366/.422/.780 (1.202 OPS). Among qualified hitters, his slugging percentage ranks second in MLB and his 233 wRC+ (league average is 100) ranks third. He entered the night with a 61.5% hard-hit rate (anything 95 mph or higher) that led the Mariners and ranked ninth in MLB.

Yet with his overhauled swing and approach -- with a focus on staying middle of the field and not swinging out of his shoes -- his mechanics seem so seamless.

“That's what it looks like, and I'm actually swinging hard,” Kelenic said. “It's not like I'm not swinging hard -- like, I am swinging hard. But I just think that like where I'm catching the ball, I'm catching it in a consistent bat path, and that's what is making it look really effortless.”

It’s unclear when the Mariners might face another lefty starter, and Servais quashed the idea of moving Kelenic up from the Nos. 5-7 spots in the lineup. But as his feats grow greater, the ascent from one of MLB Pipeline’s former posterboys -- who stumbled so mightily in his first two years -- is becoming one of baseball’s most intriguing storylines.