Kelenic electrifies in return to lineup

Mariners' top prospect, back from right leg injury, shows hustle at bat, in field

March 20th, 2021

squashed any doubts over the health of his right leg by putting it to heavy use in the Mariners’ 7-6 win over the White Sox on Friday. He also opened up on his eventful Spring Training, which was halted midway through with a knee injury and will end in less than two weeks with some uncertainty about where he’s headed for the start of the regular season.

“My assessment when I look at this camp is, you have a really dangerous group here because we have a bunch of young guys that are hungry to win,” Kelenic said. “And, quite frankly, we're making steps in the right direction. And for me, it's exciting to watch. It's even more exciting to be a part of when you have so much talent in one spot.

“There's honestly not one guy in this entire clubhouse that that isn't working. And I know each and every one of those guys, it means a lot to them to be committed to winning a title in Seattle, getting to the playoffs and experiencing that together. And that's an exciting thing.”

Back to the health of his right leg: The Mariners’ No. 1 prospect kicked it into high gear on Friday on three separate plays out of the batter’s box, all of which ended with him on base. His first was legging out a double in the second inning. He followed by reaching on an infield dribbler in the second. Lastly, he beat out a would-be inning-ending double-play ball to the second baseman in the fifth.

Kelenic also flashed some athleticism in center field, where he showed off impressive arm strength and wherewithal on two separate plays that led to outs. That included a cutoff to shortstop J.P. Crawford that helped nab Danny Mendick, who was going for second base, and stop the bleeding in a five-running inning for Marco Gonzales.

“Those are crucial outs in the course of a ballgame, especially when your starting pitcher is struggling, and Jarred started it all,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Those little things don’t always show up in the box score, but they mean a lot over the course of the game.”

Asked if he thought his baserunning and speed are an underrated part of his game, Kelenic agreed and said that he has a goal of stealing 30 bases in 2021. His previous career high was 20 in ’19.

“I think it's doable,” Kelenic said. “I consider myself fast, and I try to put that on display as much as I can. And I got a shot a couple of times today, with the hustle double there and then the ground ball that I beat out.”

Kelenic finished 2-for-3 while batting in the eight hole and is now hitting .333 with a 1.095 OPS this spring, but his sample size is limited to just 12 at-bats. Friday marked two weeks since the 21-year-old suffered a Grade 2 adductor strain, and he has made huge strides for a recovery that the club initially feared would be a matter of weeks but wound up being just 12 days. Now, he’s battling against the schedule with just nine Cactus League games left ahead of Opening Day on April 1.

“I'm a competitor and I love playing this game, and when I got sidelined, because I tweaked my knee a little bit and the game was taken away from me for about 10 days or whatever, it's just exciting to get back out there with the team to compete,” Kelenic said.

“I feel great. I feel ready to go. I'm just trying to take it one day at a time, and the knee feels great. Everything feels great. I feel 100 percent healthy.”

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said again on Wednesday to MLB Network that Kelenic will likely break camp in the Minors. Given the delay of the Triple-A Tacoma season to May 6, the only options would be in Minors Spring Training, where there will be games against opposing teams, or at the alternate training site, which Kelenic previously expressed pause over.

“I try to not put too much thought into it,” Kelenic said. “At the end of the day, I just try to play as hard as I possibly can. Yesterday, I got some live at-bats on the back fields here, and there's opportunities there. There's opportunities out here in [Cactus League games]. I just take any opportunity I can get. I know that I'll be able to get an opportunity every day. And, you know, if that's not playing in the game, I know there's other opportunities somewhere else.”

But is he worried about the limited number of opportunities left in Spring Training?

“It's out of my control,” Kelenic said. “So, I'm just I'm here to play baseball. And I'm here to try to be a good teammate. I'm here to learn. And I feel like I'm doing that.”