Yesterday the Mariners defeated the Colorado Rockies, 4-2. (In case you missed it, you should go catch up with Shay’s recap about it here.) One of those runs came, rather famously, on back-to-back triples from Cal Raleigh (!) and Jarred Kelenic. While it’s tempting to linger on the spectacle of a Beef Boy Triple with extra sauce, it’s Kelenic’s hit I’m more interested in parsing—and not the hit itself, but rather the at-bat that led up to the hit.
After taking a slider low from Rockies pitcher Jose Ureña, Kelenic fouled off the next pitch, a cutter in on his hands. After taking another slider low, Ureña again threw the cutter to the same spot, and Kelenic again fouled it off to even the count. Ureña then tried a fastball up; Kelenic laid off. 3-2 count.
On second thought...Kelenic asks for and is granted time right as Ureña starts his motion.
“Did I call time too late? My bad.”
Then on the next pitch, another fastball:
Back-to-Back RBI Triples— ROOT SPORTS™ | NW (@ROOTSPORTS_NW) March 11, 2023
Cal Raleigh and Jarred Kelenic each drive in a run to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead! pic.twitter.com/3urv1cmXdC
As part of the rule changes, batters are now limited to one timeout per at-bat. While you’ll see most batters taking their timeouts with two strikes, Kelenic has a different strategy.
“As soon as I catch my mind wandering, I step out,” he says. “Like, oh, he’s going to throw me a curveball—I step out and call time.”
Kelenic takes that time to take a breath, clear his mind and remind himself to focus on the pitch as it comes, not the pitch that will be.
It’s part of his overall plan at the plate to “win” every pitch—even pitches that are called strikes. “Like a called strike on the inside corner, I still won that pitch because that wasn’t a pitch I wanted to swing at.”
Focusing on the pitch as it comes in instead of trying to think ahead in the at-bat allows Kelenic to react to the pitch as it’s thrown. Much attention has been paid to Kelenic’s league-leading four homers this spring, and deservedly so, as some of them have been towering shots, but he’s been consistently hitting the ball well, making good swing decisions and slowing the game down when he needs to, using that one precious timeout in a strategic, effective way.
The game before this one, in Seattle’s rout of the Reds, Kelenic also had an RBI hit—one that might not have been remarked upon amidst the offensive explosion as it wasn’t anything flashy, just a run-scoring single. In the midst of a big second inning for the Mariners, with two outs and two runners on, Jarred took the first three pitches he saw from replacement pitcher Ryan Nutof—a high fastball, a breaking ball that landed in the middle of the plate, and a fastball inside. And while he didn’t officially call time, he did step a ways out and take a big cleansing breath.
On the next pitch, he hit a clean single to open up a 4-0 lead for the Mariners.
This was such a nice at-bat for Kelenic. Got ahead in the count 2-1, took a smart timeout to take a breath, didn't try to do too much with the pitch, just sent it back where it came from for a two-run single. pic.twitter.com/JIipMUllc1— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) March 10, 2023
It was a hit reminiscent of Edgar Martínez, one of the most adept in the game at taking what the pitcher offered and figuring out a way to do some degree of damage with the pitch, the product of a calm and focused mindset—the mindset Kelenic is using his time outs and step outs to create.
There’s always been a cat-and-mouse game between pitchers and hitters, but the two camps seem to disagree with who, exactly is the mouse. Max Scherzer believes it’s the pitchers sitting in the catbird seat: “Really, the power the pitcher has now — I can totally dictate pace. The rule change of the hitter having only one timeout changes the complete dynamic of the hitter-and-pitcher dynamic.”
When told about Max Scherzer’s comments, Kelenic shook his head in disagreement, pointing out that speeding up the game affects everyone, pitchers and hitters alike. He believes that creating more action—which the rules were designed to do—favors the hitter. Additionally, he’s figured out a way to turn a limitation—only one time-out per at-bat—into a strength. Even if the hitters are the mice, as Scherzer suggests, it seems Kelenic has come up with a good strategy for avoiding the mousetrap.