I’ve been on a Kerbal Space Program kick recently, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from that game it’s that getting to space is hard. I’m not sure if you knew that. Basically, you gotta go really high up, and then you gotta go really fast sideways. You gotta go so fast that, even though you’re falling to the ground, you’re going so fast that you miss the ground.
It’s the going fast sideways part that’s tricky. The Earth is really big, so to miss the ground you have to go really, incredibly fast. In fact, about 80% of the Apollo rockets were designed to get the ship into orbit. The rest handled getting to the moon, landing and back. The hardest part is leaving Earth behind, as Kim Stanley Robinson taught us.
And so it is, I think, for baseball. Anyone can hit the ball high, that’s not a problem. Popups are some of the most common results of any PA. It’s hitting the ball fast enough that it misses the park that’s the challenge.
Which brings us to today’s game in Surprise, AZ. Fitting with the theme of failing into orbit, MLB decided to pretend that today’s game was played in an era before television satellites, and so we had to make do with the radio broadcast. Because of that, I don’t have much footage of the actual game, so we’ll be using rocket explosions to illustrate plays. Don’t worry, all of these ships were unmanned.
Things got off to an exciting start as Mariners fans got their first sample of recent acquisition Easton McGee. It did not go well. For illustrative purposes, here’s a comparable launch from 1957:
Yeah that’s about right. Bobby Witt Jr. scorched a ball down the left field corner for a leadoff triple, followed by a pair of singles from Kyle Isbel and Mariners Enemy Salvador Perez. Vinnie Pasquantino was all over a pitch, but Julio managed to make a running catch to put him away. Julio wouldn’t get a chance on the next play, as Franmil Reyes sent a baseball not just into orbit, but on an escape trajectory for a 3 run dinger. Dairon Blanco followed up with a homer of his own and after the first inning it was 5-0 Kansas City.
But today’s star (space pun) of the show, Jarred Kelenic, decided that the Mariners would actually score some runs today. And this one we have footage of.
Here's Kelenic's homer. pic.twitter.com/mKDnWRcP0w— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) February 26, 2023
Boom. Earth has a new satellite. J.P. worked a walk after that, Colin Moran singled him over to third, and Jack Larson hit a grounder that should have been an inning-ending double play, but he managed to leg it out allowing J.P. to score from third. That chased Brad Keller out of the game, and put the M’s within 3.
McGee came back out in the bottom of the second, and although he gave up a single to Maikel Garcia to lead off the inning, weak contact from the top of the Royals’ order got him out unscathed.
In the next inning it was once again Jarred’s turn to bat. With two outs and Eugenio standing on first, Jarred called time to give him a moment to collect himself. And then on the next pitch, he was cleared for liftoff.
Here's Kelenic's second homer to RIGHT-center field. pic.twitter.com/W8OrOwqRho— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) February 26, 2023
So that made it a one-run ballgame. It became a tie ballgame when Colin Moran led off the fourth with a double, and scored when Jack Larsen singled him him. Julio singled Larsen over to third, and then finally Ty hit the kind of ball we expect from Ty, scoring Larsen and giving the M’s the lead.
Ty France's RBI single to give Seattle a 6-5 lead. pic.twitter.com/4vbYmljjVT— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) February 26, 2023
Revel in it, because it was not to last. Jarred came up for a third time, and hit another ball over 100 mph, but he smoked it right at the center fielder for the inning ending lineout. After that, both managers switched over the roster to minor league guys, and Tayler Saucedo came in to pitch. He had a great inning getting Dungan and Isbel to strike out swinging, and Salvy Perez to weakly ground out to short. He had the Royals looking something like this:
Alas, Saucedo could not pitch for the rest of the game, and Travis Kuhn came in to pitch the sixth inning. After getting CJ Alexander to lineout, a double from John Rave and a walk by Angelo Castellano put two on base. Samad Taylor then scored both of those runners with a triple, and came in himself from a Robbie Glendinning single.
The Mariners got a run back in the seventh when Mason McCoy scored Leonardo Rivas from third, but were shut down after that. In the top of the ninth the Royals decided to add insult to injury and send out Jonah Dipoto, Jerry’s son, to close out the game. Which he did when Jacob Nottingham popped out in foul territory.
So, despite everything being under the Mariner’s control halfway through the game, spring training can always get out of hand. SpaceX learned the same lesson when running a landing test of their Starship rocket. They landed it successfully, and everything seemed fine until:
So what about the elephant in the room, Jarred’s massive homers? Besides the obvious answer (it’s just spring training) we have a couple theories. The first, brought up by our wonderful Zach Gottschalk, is that the pitch clock may really help Jarred. So much has already been made about his mental state that I’m not going to get into it here, but the pitch clock may speed up the game enough that Jarred doesn’t have time to get in his own way. He just hits the ball hard.
The second is, to me, more interesting. Last year the Mariners invested in a fancy new pitching machine that can accurately mimic a pitcher’s real-life arsenal, right down to the release point and exact spin. It’s pretty crazy technology. Shannon Drayer has a write up of it here. This could really help Jarred. People talk about how he needs to see more breaking balls, well here’s a way that he can take 50 swings off the exact slider he’ll be facing later that night. This might really turn him around.
At the end of the day, putting baseballs into the outfield bleachers is difficult, but not impossible. It’s just about hitting the ball so fast that it misses the outfield. Maybe Jarred’s got the hang of it now.