Much like the fans in the stands and watching on television, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto would tell himself that this would be the time when Jarred Kelenic would get that one hit that would lead to a breakout.
It didn’t have to be a crushed home run or even a line drive to the gap, it could have been a blooper to shallow center or a soft-hopping ground ball to the left side that Kelenic beat out for an infield single.
Dipoto hoped for anything to stop Kelenic’s hitless streak and something that might allow the rookie to exhale, not focus on his diminishing batting average and lead to a passel of hits to match his talent and approach.
It never happened.
And with Kelenic’s noticeable frustration before he would step in the batter’s box and the eruption of disappointment after a failed result growing more pronounced, Dipoto knew they had to send the talented prospect back to Class AAA Tacoma.
“Every time he would come to bat, I’m excited and feel like this is going to be the moment when a wave of overwhelming success begins,” Dipoto said in a video conference Tuesday morning. “I think that’s gonna happen today, in Tacoma.”
Kelenic was expected to be in the starting lineup Tuesday night for the Rainiers at Cheney Stadium.
“He just needs to get back on track,” Dipoto said. “There’s no questioning the talent. We did see in the underlying skills — we saw the things that we would like to see. But it’s been a pretty lengthy dry spell for him. When you see players start to press — and you can see it in his face, you can see it in his body language as he’s walking into and out of the batter’s box on a given night — Jarred has so many years in front of him and so much success left to give. There’s no sense in driving it to the desert floor in this first chance before just tapping the brakes and giving him an opportunity to find himself.”
After belting a solo homer for his first MLB hit and adding a pair of doubles in the second game of his call-up, Kelenic went through a dry spell at the plate.
The Mariners felt he was still swinging at the right pitches, working counts and hitting the ball hard.
But in the last week to 10 days, Kelenic started to swing early and often, trying to end a hitless streak that has now reached 39 at-bats.
“Before it gets too far away from us, we just want to take a moment and tap the brakes and give him a chance to just take a breather and do the things that he does so well,” Dipoto said. “I’m certain that he’s gonna find himself quickly and be back in the big leagues in no time.”
Kelenic had a .096/.185/.193 slash line with just eight hits in 92 plate appearances with eight walks and 26 strikeouts.
By comparison, Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom has nine hits in 23 plate appearances.
Kelenic was sent down after an 0-for-39 stretch (44 plate appearances) that included five walks and 17 strikeouts.
“It’s been pretty evident especially over these last seven or 10 days that he’s starting to chase results,” Dipoto said. “It’s a very difficult game to play when you’re chasing results rather than focusing on the consistency of your process. And he knows that.”
The MLB record for longest hitless streak by a position player belongs to former Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who went hitless in 54 at-bats (62 plate appearances) over the end of the 2018 season and the start of the 2019 season.
A growing reaction to the struggles is that the Mariners were premature in calling up Kelenic, succumbing to fan pressure and the team’s hitting woes. He had played a total of six games with Class AAA Tacoma before the call-up. Before that, he was playing minor league spring-training games in Arizona for most of April.
“I think we called him up at the right time,” he said. “He crushed it in spring training, he was excellent in the co-op league. He did all that we asked him to do through minor-league camp, and had a wonderful first week in Tacoma. Second-guessing the call up ... it’s easy to be a back-seat second-guesser. The same thought might have prevailed if he’d come up and crushed it from the beginning. We would have been criticized for being too slow. I think our timing was right when we called him up.”
Unlike outfielder Taylor Trammell, who struggled in his MLB debut and was sent down to Tacoma after striking out 41 times in 95 plate appearances, Dipoto didn’t believe that Kelenic was being exposed by pitchers for having a hole in his swing or a glaring weakness in his approach.
“There was a very distinct pattern with the way that pitchers were attacking Taylor with fastballs up and change-ups,” Dipoto said. “Taylor went to Tacoma, and in three weeks, I don’t want to say he solved that problem, he made a slight adjustment with his hands and made really good selections in what he was swinging at. I think we’re seeing a positive development.”