January 29, 2023

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Mariners focused on 'long game' with Lewis' return

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This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter,click here. And **subscribe**_ to get it regularly in your inbox._

The Mariners received two notable reminders from Kyle Lewis over the weekend. The first was that he can be an absolute force for a lineup that had sorely needed a run producer, with massive homers on both Friday and Saturday, each of which led to critical — and much-needed — wins over the Astros.

The second was that he remains every bit of a day-to-day player as he eases back to regular action, with the Mariners scratching him from the starting lineup on Sunday after initially penciling him in, then opting not to pinch-hit him in a tight 2-1 loss to Houston when there were clear moments he could have. Lewis was also pinch-hit for by Dylan Moore in the eighth inning on Saturday with Seattle holding a six-run lead.

Sunday’s decision, per manager Scott Servais, was the result of a combination of factors — it was a day game after a late night game, a cross-country trip to Baltimore loomed and an off-day on Monday would allow Lewis two full days of rest. But it also underscored that the Mariners will be easing up on the gas pedal with the slugger periodically, at least for now.

“We knew when we [added] him to the roster, there were going to be days he was going to be down,” Servais said. “You’d like to plug him in there at a key moment, but you’ve got to stay true to what we decided when he came back, so that’s what we did.”

On their planned days off, players typically don’t take part in a pregame routine and don’t stay warmed up throughout the game. In that context, the Mariners calling on Lewis in a pinch would have gone completely against the long-term plan that the team had mapped out with him. That much was clear when, twice asked about the decision following the game, Servais reiterated that “Kyle was not available today.”

“Getting it cranked up and everything else associated with that — it’s a prep in the training room,” Servais said. “It’s in the cage to get loose, all that other stuff. It’s not really an off-day if we’re running him in there.”

On Saturday, Lewis tested his legs, going from first base to third on a double down the line by Taylor Trammell. On that run, Lewis had a sprint speed of 23.6 feet per second, per Statcast, a metric for which league average is 27.0 and elite is 30.0. Lewis had a 27.9 average in his AL Rookie of the Year season in 2020. It wasn’t a close play, and Lewis likely would not have scored had he dialed it up, but he was clearly playing it safe.

Lewis was tracked on 19 runs last week, averaging 23.6 (the bottom 2% of the league) and topping out at 25.6. Most of those runs came on easy singles without the chance for extra bases, when he’s homered (and thus been able to coast) or on infield groundouts. He hasn’t yet had to increase his speed on the basepaths and put more exertion on the surgically repaired right knee.

Beyond the Mariners saying outright that Lewis will not play the outfield any time soon, it’s unclear how significant his limitations are. On the other hand, what is clear — as he reminded everyone with his prodigious power over the weekend — is that the team will take all the offensive production he can give, even if it means that he sits a few times per week, such as Sunday.

“Again, we’ve got to play the long game here,” Servais said. “We really want to have him available for the remainder of the season. So we just pulled back a little bit and we’ll go from there. But he’s looked great.”

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