SEATTLE – For an all-too-brief period of baseball, roughly two months of MLB games, Kyle Lewis represented all that the Mariners could be in the future as a foundational player for the team’s rebuild toward sustained success.
But the unrepairable damage to his right knee simply never allowed Lewis’ potential with the organization to be fully realized. Following a frustrating year of more health issues and minimal production, the Mariners knew it was time to move on.
With the deadline to tender contracts for the 2023 season looming and a questions about whether Lewis, who was out of minor league options, would even make the opening-day roster out of spring training, the Mariners solved the dilemma by trading the former American League Rookie of the Year to the Arizona Diamondbacks for catcher/outfielder Cooper Hummel on Thursday afternoon.
Hummel, 27, played in 66 games with the Diamondbacks during the 2022 season, batting .176/.274/.307 slash line with eight doubles, three triples, three home runs, 17 RBIs and four stolen bases. The Portland native played at catcher (18 games), left field (21 games) and right field (2 games), while also serving as the designated hitter in 16 games.
While the return may not seem like a lot, the questions surrounding Lewis’ health, specifically his right knee, and his limitations had sunk his value to the point where the Mariners were considering not tendering him a contract for 2023 since he was arbitration eligible and couldn’t be sent to the minor leagues if he struggled.
Lewis, 27, played in only 18 games for the Mariners this season due to a combination of injury and lack of production. A season-ending knee surgery to repair a torn right meniscus and setbacks that followed after the early June surgery lingered into to spring training of 2022. With both sides wanting to make sure the knee was healthy, Lewis was cautious during spring training. He started the season in the injured list and wasn’t activated until May 24.
He played in four games, hitting two homers and driving in three runs. But a slider that ran up and in on him against the Astros on May 28, struck him in the shoulder and then behind his ear wear it wasn’t protected by the helmet. It let to a concussion that kept him out until July 22.
With it difficult it to play in back-to-back games due to recurring knee discomfort even as the designated hitter, Lewis played in just 14 games upon his return. He posted a .098/.196/.171 slash line with only four hits (one homer) in 46 plate appearances with five walks and 18 strikeouts.
The Mariners, who were also frustrated by the unpredictability of Lewis’ day-to-day availability and his own determinations on his health, optioned him to Triple-A Tacoma on Aug. 8, much to his dismay.
Lewis didn’t initially report to the Rainiers out of frustration. The Mariners were patient in the process. Eventually Lewis joined the Rainiers on Aug. 19 and finished out the season, posting a .235/.342/.469 slash line with two doubles, seven homers, 17 RBIs, 16 walks and 35 strikeouts in the final 26 games of the season.
Lewis was named the AL Rookie of the Year by unanimous vote in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, posting a .262/.364/.437 slash line with three doubles, 11 homers, 28 RBIs, five stolen bases and looking solid in center field while playing in 58 of the 60 games.
It was feel-good story of success considering the injury issues he endured early in his career.
The Mariners’ first-round draft choice (No. 11 overall) in 2016 out of Mercer University, Lewis was off to a strong start to his first professional season with the short-season Everett AquaSox. He had a slash line of .299/.385/.538 with eight doubles, five triples, three homers and 26 RBIs in his first 30 games. After a slow start, he was hitting .364 with a 1.114 OPS over the final 20 games.
But his season and his development came to a painful halt on July 19.
In the seventh inning of a game against the Tri-City Dust Devils at Everett Memorial Stadium, Lewis was trying to score from second on a single. As he neared home, the catcher came up the line to field a throw. Trying to avoid a major collision, Lewis took an awkward step while trying to slow down. His right knee buckled and he felt a pop and then seething pain while ending up on the ground. He’d suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, torn medial and lateral meniscus.
After moving near the Mariners’ spring training complex in Arizona and rehabbing the knee to full strength, Lewis returned to the field on June 11, 2017. In his first official game of his return with Class A Modesto, Lewis slammed the surgically repaired knee into the outfield wall while trying to make a catch. He suffered a bruised knee that would lead to further complications down the road. The surgery and the bruised knee hampered Lewis throughout the remainder of the 2017 season. He played in 49 games, hitting. 257 with a .740 on-base plus slugging percentage, six doubles, a triple, seven homers and 31 RBIs.
The Mariners planned to have Lewis make up for the missed time in the Arizona Fall League in 2017. But recurring discomfort with the knee limited him to just two games. The Mariners decided to shut him down from games and allow him to rest and later prepare for spring training. They decided not to give him an invite to MLB spring training in 2018, wanting him to focus on being ready for his minor-league season.
The knee pain, however, returned as Lewis ramped up his workouts in preparation for spring training. He eventually opted for another surgery – an arthroscopic clean-up of the knee. The procedure provided relief and he was able to return to the field on May 12 of that season.
After healthy seasons in 2019, which earned him a September call-up that featured six homers in his first 10 games and his success in 2020, the issues in the right knee arose in 2021. He suffered a bone bruise during spring training that delayed to the start of his season.
His return to the field last 36 games. On May 31 at T-Mobile Park against the A’s, he injured the knee while trying to make a leaping catch.
A few days later he was diagnosed with a torn meniscus in his right knee. He underwent surgery June 11. The Mariners hoped that he might return late in the season as a designated hitter and help an offense that was heavily reliant on the top of its batting order. But he suffered a setback while running and sliding during a rehab session and was later shut down for the season.”
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