His Minor League teammates used to call him "Showtime.” And folks at the Major League level are starting to see why.
Kyle Lewis proved he could hit the fastball on Friday when he crushed a 95 mph Justin Verlander heater for his first home run of the season. And when the Astros started feeding the Mariners rookie center fielder more offspeed offerings, he countered by bashing a Lance McCullers Jr. curve over the right-field fence Saturday at Minute Maid Park.
Lewis’ early heroics haven’t been enough to help Seattle snap a 12-game losing streak in Houston as it lost Saturday, 7-2, to fall to 0-2 in the opening series. But they have highlighted the Mariners’ youth movement that will mark this shortened season’s progress.
Lewis walked and struck out in his first two at-bats against McCullers, then took an 83 mph curve to the opposite field for a 358-foot homer into the right-field seats in the sixth inning. It wasn’t as visually impressive as his 438-foot blast over the train tracks high above the left-field fence off Verlander, but the maturation of being able to adjust to offspeed offerings and drive the ball the other way is another sign of Lewis’ quick growth.
“I was just sticking with the idea he was going to throw a lot of breaking balls, so you kind of stay back and let the ball get deep and try to go to right-center with it,” the 25-year-old said in an online interview from Houston. “I definitely wanted to hit a breaking ball hard, just to show that I could and for myself as well. It’s always good when I can do that.”
Lewis’ learning curve will be sped up if he shows he can handle curves and changeups and the variety of offspeed offerings that figure to come his way more frequently as teams start focusing on a youngster who already is filling the cleanup role for the youngest team in MLB.
“Certainly we’ve seen Kyle have the ability to do that and he’s going to need to,” manager Scott Servais said. “The league is quickly going to see what kind of ability he has and how he can drive the ball to all fields. He’s in a really good spot, very comfortable. The quality of at-bats are really good with him right now.”
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Lewis has flexed his muscles since his September callup from Double-A last season. He now has eight homers in his first 20 MLB games, making him one of 13 players since 1920 to manage that feat. The only Seattle player with more home runs in his initial 20 games was Alvin Davis, who hit nine in his first 20 in 1984 on the way to an American League Rookie of the Year season.
The low-key Lewis is taking his early success in stride, but understands it’s not always going to be this easy.
“I’m just really proud of being able to make an impact and come up and have success,” he said. “Every day I lay my head down and just try to wake up and give it my best shot again.”
Since his Sept. 10 debut last year, Lewis’ eight home runs are tied for the most in MLB in that span and he appeared even more locked in from the moment he arrived at the Mariners’ Summer Camp after working hard to get bigger and stronger during the 3 1/2-month shutdown.
Going deep off Verlander and McCullers carries a little more weight than his intrasquad success earlier this month, but he’ll keep that in perspective as well.
“I have a lot of confidence coming in from having a great camp and everything,” Lewis said. “I’m just trying to carry that over into the season and not try to make it bigger than what it is. They’re proven pitchers, established pitchers, but they still have to pitch and I’m just going to try to do what I can do.”
Shortstop J.P. Crawford went 3-for-4 with two triples, but the Mariners didn’t have a lot else to crow about Saturday as they dropped to 1-20 against the Astros over the past two years. Taijuan Walker pitched well for three innings as he began his return from 2018 Tommy John surgery, but Houston scored four runs in the fourth and has now outscored Seattle 15-4 in the first two games of the season-opening four-game series.