As Kyle Lewis lifts his leg up, he takes just one moment to wind back his bat. The movement provides an extra bit of potential energy. Frankie Montas releases the baseball, and Lewis immediately identifies the pitch as positively scrumptious. His arms begin to uncoil.
Lewis extends his arms. His arms pull his hands through the zone. His hands pull the bat, which loops in a perfectly parabolic plane intersecting with the pitch. Lewis doesn’t let a single Joule of energy go un-transferred into the baseball. Every single person knows immediately that the baseball is gone, especially Montas, who screams in frustration as the ball is obliterated, leaving the yard at 110 miles per hour.
Lewis takes two steps, lifts the bat, and casually flips it back toward the first base dugout. There was a good chance he wasn’t ever going to experience moments like this. Slugging .530 in Everett a month after being drafted, an ACL tear threatened to derail his career before it ever began. The injury kept him out for the better part of a year, and he never found quite the same success in the minors as he had in the month before the injury.
Until last year.
As Kyle Lewis rounded the bases, I hope he found himself free of the baggage that carried by the Mariners year-after-year. Everything doesn’t go wrong. He’s capable of true excellence, and it’s due to his persistence that the success of the Mariners’ rebuild hinges upon his bat.
Two innings later, Jarred Kelenic didn’t even seem to wind up. One moment, the bat was cocked behind his shoulders. If you were designing a video game with a bunch of pre-set batting stance templates, you’d call Kelenic’s stance “Batting Stance 1”.
He lifts his right leg six to eight inches above the ground. The kick isn’t abrupt or exagerrated. Rather, the leg almost seems to lift of its own accord, gently pulling his foot off the ground before arcing back down.
The moment his foot hits the ground, Kelenic’s arms whip around, carrying the bat so quickly that you’re almost surprised he had time to swing at all. In a fraction of a second, all of his power is transferred from his core into the baseball, and the ball finds itself rocketing away from home plate at 108 miles per hour. You blink, and you’re not sure if his body actually moved.
Kelenic takes a moment, and then another, to observe his work. He isn’t an artist who seems to take pleasure in his craft. As he puts his head down and begins to jog, he seems almost angrier than before he hit the dinger. He is a man who, rather than being uplifted by his talent, is imprisoned by it. He’s aware that he has the raw ability to be one of the best baseball players of his generation. Thus, to not do so would, to Kelenic, be abject failure. Home run number two should have come long ago.
Yusei Kikuchi was perfectly serviceable tonight. He threw six solid innings, and while his three strikeouts were demonstrative of his lack of mind-blowing stuff tonight, he kept the A’s off-balance to the tune of just four hits. Kikuchi was pulled after just 88 pitches. The sight of him rubbing his back as Scott Servais jogged toward the mound had fans fearing the worst, but the injury thankfully doesn’t sound serious.
The dingers, along with Kikuchi’s efforts, were enough for the Mariners to scrape out a 4-2 win tonight against a first place baseball team. That Lewis and Kelenic will not be able to hit home runs every single night is at the root of the Mariners’ issues. These are issues that anybody with a cursory sense of the team can understand by simply looking at the lineup on any given day: there are simply not enough Major-League-caliber baseball players.
José Godoy, Jacob Nottingham, and Donovan Walton batted at the bottom of the Mariner lineup tonight. It feels unfair to criticize them as hitters, as none of them should have been put into this position in the first place. In fact, Godoy’s framing (and, to be frank, effort) were a breath of fresh air after watching Luis Torrens and Tom Murphy.
The fact of the matter, though, is that the Mariners do not have enough baseball players to field a competitive team. The idea, of course, is that the team can fill in the gaps this offseason.
Kyle Lewis and Jarred Kelenic might say all the right things, but they’re not oblivious. They know that the team hasn’t put them in a situation to win this year. The degree to which each of them yearn to win is striking. Their investment in the success of their teammates is infectious. If the team doesn’t show that same yearning and investment, and soon, then at least we’ll have the next several years of these highlights to look forward to. When the team’s years of control over Kelenic and Lewis are up, there won’t be any more.