Inside the Clubhouse: Jarred Kelenic debuts, ‘brutal’ umps and more

MLB, Seattle Mariners

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This week, Inside the Clubhouse looks at Jarred Kelenic’s highly anticipated debut, “brutal” umps, options for Albert Pujols and more.

The Seattle Mariners are calling up top prospect Jarred Kelenic — and there was not a more perfect time to do it than before their seven-game homestand against Cleveland and the Detroit Tigers, as first reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN.

Quite frankly, it was time. Kelenic, 21, has quickly quieted concerns that he wouldn’t be ready for major-league pitching, with general manager Jerry Dipoto citing in February that Kelenic had only played 21 games above Single-A. He has recorded four straight multi-hit games to start the season, including a two-homer performance in his Triple-A debut on Thursday.

It’s not like the Mariners had anything to gain by keeping Kelenic in the minors any longer. He has already accumulated another year of service time and in the words of Dipoto, “might add a spark to our offense if we give him that opportunity.”

The Mariners need one. Badly. Their .210 team batting average ranks 29th in baseball. Kyle Lewis, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, has shown signs of life after struggling to start the season. Taylor Trammell is hitting .157/.255/.337 in his first season as the team’s starting left fielder, the position that Kelenic figures to take once he joins the team.

And yet, the Mariners are 18-17 and third in the American League West, getting contributions from a variety of relievers — Kendall Graveman, Will Vest, Rafael Montero, Kenyan Middleton, Casey Sadler and Erik Swanson. Their four primary infielders — Kyle Seager, Dylan Moore, Evan White and J.P. Crawford — are a large reason why the team leads the majors with 38 double plays in 35 games.

Teams are hesitant to call up top prospects unless the circumstances are right to avoid putting too much pressure on them too early. With Kelenic, whose debut has been talked about since he was acquired in December 2018, that may be unavoidable. But with the Mariners in contention, he will not be asked to be the savior — something one rival executive called a factor in determining when to call Kelenic up.

The question has always been how soon would Kelenic be called up by the Mariners. The answer is Thursday, barring a late change in plans, in what is one of the most anticipated debuts in Mariners history.

Michael A. Taylor has been a huge bargain for Kansas City

The theme of the Kansas City Royals’ offseason was adding players with winning backgrounds. Carlos Santana, Andrew Benintendi and Michael A. Taylor have all played in a World Series while Jarrod Dyson, Wade Davis, Mike Minor and Greg Holland all have postseason experience.

Of that group, Taylor was the most unheralded move — a $1.5 million deal early in the offseason — and he looks to be a bargain as he has emerged as the Royals’ primary center fielder.

Taylor, 30, has always been an above-average defender, but the Royals identified him as a player with untapped offensive potential. He flashed in limited opportunities with the Nationals, but struggled with inconsistencies as he appeared in less than 100 games in each of the last two seasons.

In Kansas City, Taylor has already seen 102 at-bats in 31 games. He is hitting .255/.309/.333 after going 1-for-11 in his last three games. He ranks second in baseball with four defensive runs saved, with the Minnesota Twins’ Byron Buxton leading the league with six.

What’s next for Albert Pujols?

Where will Albert Pujols end up? That’s something team executives and rival agents are all trying to figure out — and none of them seem to have any ideas.

The Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals were immediately mentioned as speculative fits. Pujols, of course, played under White Sox manager Tony La Russa for 11 seasons in St. Louis, where he hit .328/.420/.617 with 445 home runs and established himself as one of the most dominant players in baseball.

But the White Sox are not interested in Pujols, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, who have reigning American League MVP Jose Abreu at first base and Yermin Mercedes as their primary designated hitter.

The same can be said for the Cardinals, who have Paul Goldschmidt at first base. There is also no DH in the National League this season and it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals, who have the best record in the NL, clearing a roster spot for Pujols out of nostalgia.

Pujols, 41, has made it clear that he is not ready to retire. He still wants to get to 700 home runs and only needs 33 more to get there. Some team figures to eventually give him an opportunity, but after hitting .198/.250/.372 in 86 at-bats this season, even that is no sure thing.

‘Umpires are brutal’

Here is how one prominent National League player responded when I asked him via text what has stood out to him after the first month of the regular season.

“Offenses everywhere are grinding. It’s a tough environment for hitters. Pitching is unreal, defense, umpires are brutal. I’m sorry, man, but it’s awful.”

What about the umpires, I asked.

“Everything,” he said.

Can Jonathan Lucroy find an MLB home?

Free-agent catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who impressed in limited time with the Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals, has begun training to be with Team USA in the Summer Olympics.

Lucroy, 34, is still seeking a major-league opportunity and has received multiple minor-league offers after being designated for assignment by the Nationals. The New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland A’s are among the few teams that have been mentioned as potential fits.

Everybody loves Wade Miley

I covered the Milwaukee Brewers for The Athletic for two seasons and you would be hard-pressed to find a more popular teammate than Wade Miley.

So it was no surprise that once he recorded the final out of his no-hitter against Cleveland that his former teammates — and others who have previously worked with Miley — began an outpouring of support.

“I am quite literally holding back tears,” one National League team employee said. “Wade Miley is one of the best individuals I’ve had the privilege to meet in this crazy game and tonight was his moment.”

Around the Horn:

  • MLB began using a new baseball in 2021 and the result has offenses struggling like never before. Entering Monday, non-pitchers were hitting .236/.309/.396 — a .705 OPS — with the offensive numbers produced in May/April being the lowest since 2010, as Lindsey Adler of The Athletic reported.
  • The New York Mets were wise to place star pitcher Jacob deGrom on the injured list, even after MRIs revealed no structural damage. They are built to withstand a short-term absence, having three off days in 11 days, and are optimistic that he will only miss one turn through the rotation.
  • A big reason the Mets will be able to withstand deGrom’s brief absence is the emergence of Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker. Relievers Edwin Diaz and Tommy Hunter have been reliable options while the quartet of Trevor May, Jeurys Familia, Aaron Loup and Miguel Castro has a combined 1.65 ERA in 44 ⅔ innings.
  • Christian Yelich remains on the injured list, but the Milwaukee Brewers are hopeful he will not be out for an extended period of time. He is rehabbing aggressively, according to sources, though the team intends to be cautious as he deals with yet another back injury only 14 months after signing a seven-year, $215 million contract extension.

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