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Seattle Mariners

Matt Calkins: Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert going through painful process of becoming major-leaguers

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Logan Gilbert, left, sits in the dugout as designated hitter Sam Haggerty, right, walks past him after Gilbert was pulled from the team's baseball game against the Detroit Tigers during the third inning Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in Seattle.   (Associated Press)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

Logic says this is normal – that a knowledgeable baseball fan wouldn’t panic.

Young call-ups are often more like good books than good movies, where it takes a few dozen pages to get to the action.

But many Mariners fans’ minds have likely ostracized logic. They’ve replaced it with names such as Danny Hultzen and Dustin Ackley – highly-touted prospects who eventually earned the dreaded label starting with “b” and ending with “ust.”

It is these fans who might have reacted to Jarred Kelenic’s and Logan Gilbert’s first two weeks on the big-league roster by tattooing their foreheads with their palms.

Kelenic, the 21-year-old outfielder, is hitting .157 with a .218 on-base percentage through 13 games and 51 at-bats. In Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to Oakland, he went 0 for 5.

Gilbert, the 24-year-old right-handed pitcher, has a 7.59 ERA through three starts, in which he has amassed 10.2 innings.

I will now call upon the great sage and former NFL head coach Jim Mora to tell you what all this means: diddly-poo.

Judging players by their first two weeks in the majors is like judging a building by its first two bricks. This is especially true when you consider that neither Kelenic nor Gilbert got to play minor-league ball last year due to COVID.

Baseball isn’t like hoops, where you can look at a player such as Zion Williamson and know he’ll be a perennial all-star through his first 15 games. This is a painstaking, and sometimes flat-out painful process.

Plus, numbers can deceive.

Kelenic’s stat line Wednesday might suggest he was overmatched by big-league pitching. But he put good wood on two balls that just happened to zip near the gloves of shortstop Elvis Andrus and first baseman Matt Olson, the latter of whom has two Gold Gloves.

Might he be close to producing numbers more reflective of his potential?

“He really is,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Like I said, he very easily could have had two or three hits today. You know, they make plays. That’s what the big leagues is about. The defense is a heck of a lot better than it is in the minor leagues. But the quality of at-bats for Jarred are very good. He just needs to stick there and they will eventually fall in.”

Granted, it was unlikely Servais was going to say, “No, we’re trading him to the Twins for cash,” but the point is that it’s all about the learning curve right now.

Enter Gilbert.

The former first-round draft pick’s first two outings had a stench fit for a hazmat suit. He allowed four earned runs in four innings in his first start while giving up two home runs. He allowed three earned runs in 2⅔ innings in his second start while giving up four hits and walking two batters.

But Tuesday’s start, while not spectacular, was solid: four innings, two earned runs, four strikeouts and no walks.

Thoughts on his progress, skipper?

“These guys are so far from being the finished product. And when you get to the major-league level, the league will tell you how to adjust,” said Servais, praising Gilbert’s use of his changeup in his last outing. “Whether it’s how you’re swinging the bat or the things you’re doing on the mound, and Logan is learning that right now. There’s no question about that. He’s in a good spot mentally.”

The phrase “it’s early in the process” might be the five most maddening words a Mariners fan can hear. But with Kelenic and Gilbert, it’s true.Ken Griffey Jr. was hitting .189 through his first 14 MLB games. Mike Trout was hitting .157 through his first 16. Yes, both of them were 19 when they debuted in the majors, but the point is that just about everyone needs time to adjust at the highest level.

No doubt the Mariners have their problems. They have the worst OPS (.637) in the majors as well as the worst batting average. They have lost seven of their past nine games and are 23-27 on the year. Oh, and they haven’t made the playoffs since 2001.

But there’s still some reason for optimism, even if you have to squint to see it. There have been hints of progress from these two heralded prospects, even if the stats don’t show it.

Being a bust is always a possibility, and M’s fans have seen it all too often. But there is still plenty of time for these two to bust through.