HOUSTON — Given all that he has been through on his nearly one-year road to recovery, and the unknown of how he’d bounce back following his third knee surgery last summer, what Kyle Lewis did on Tuesday had to be a hugely welcome sight to him and the Mariners.
On his first swing in his first at-bat in his first game on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Tacoma, Lewis crushed a 464-foot homer that bounced off the concession stands beyond left field at the deepest barrier of Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City. After the ball left his bat at 109 mph, Lewis punctuated the shot with a short but sweet bat flip before taking off for first base.
Lewis then followed with an RBI single up the middle in his next at-bat during the third.
Lewis hit in the No. 3 hole and was the designated hitter Tuesday, and it’s expected that he’ll be off for Wednesday’s game before he plays a corner outfield spot on Thursday. His plan is mostly in flux based on how his body responds — but his breakout Tuesday suggests he’s in a solid spot.
Given how long he has been sidelined, and the sensitivity of the injury, the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year likely will be with Tacoma for most, if not all, of the allotted 20 days that MLB allows for rehab assignments for position players. Lewis will need to play back-to-back days regularly and respond well before the Mariners consider activating him from the 10-day injured list.
“He needs to play some,” manager Scott Servais said. “I don’t think it’s going to be like a two- or three-game rehab. He’s been out a long time, and I’m just excited for him. I know he’s worked his tail off to get back and feel completely healthy. I don’t want him to come to us unless he feels 100% and he’s good to go.”
Lewis had been playing the field in consecutive days at extended spring training in Arizona before he joined Tacoma.
“We might be a little bit more aggressive than what we normally would be right out of the chute to calm because he’s played quite a bit at extended,” Servais said.
Tuesday marked Lewis’ first professional game since he suffered a torn right meniscus last May 31, when he awkwardly landed on a running catch while playing center field. He underwent surgery less than two weeks later, nearly returned in September but experienced multiple setbacks that led the Mariners to shut him down with three weeks left in the regular season.
He then reported to Spring Training and didn’t begin ramping up baseball activities until after the big league club broke camp.
Because Lewis experienced multiple setbacks last year, the Mariners want to mitigate his situation with as much caution as possible, meaning that he won’t be rushed.
“It’s all about how he feels,” Servais said. “I do not want to bring him back until he feels 100% committed and he can do everything you need to do on the field to help our team.”
Tuesday was an emphatic step in the right direction.