Wednesday, June 16

Three strikes: Top Mariners prospects make debut; Braves Ronald Acuña Jr. injures ankle – USA TODAY

Two of the Seattle Mariners’ top prospects made their major league debuts in tandem Thursday night, with right-hander Logan Gilbert starting on the mound and outfielder Jarred Kelenic hitting leadoff at home against Cleveland. 

Gilbert, 24, retired the side in order in the top of the first, with his fastball topping out at 97 mph. However, he gave up a solo home run to Cleveland’s Franmil Reyes leading off the second inning. Gilbert gave up another run in the second as Jake Bauers singled home Josh Naylor, then served up a two-run home run to Jose Ramirez in the third inning. He was lifted after four innings, having given up four runs on five hits while striking out five and walking none over 71 pitches. 

Kelenic, 21, swung at the first pitch he saw as a major leaguer, fouling out to right field. 

He ended the night 0-for-4 with one strikeout, though it was a tough night for Mariners batters overall — Seattle managed just two hits in a 4-2 loss as Cleveland’s Zach Plesac took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. 

Both Gilbert and Kelenic were taken in the first round of the 2018 draft — Gilbert by the Mariners with the 14th overall selection and Kelenic by the Mets with the sixth pick. Seattle later acquired Kelenic from the Mets in the Robinson Cano trade.

The pair’s much-anticipated debuts became an even bigger story over the offseason when team president and CEO Kevin Mather all but admitted in a virtual meeting with the Bellevue (Washington) Breakfast Rotary Club that Gilbert and Kelenic weren’t promoted in 2020 so the Mariners would have them under team control for an additional year. 

Mather resigned shortly after his comments were made public. 

Ronald Acuña Jr. lunges to reach first base ahead of the throw during Thursday's game against the Blue Jays. Acuña injured his ankle tripping over the base and had to leave the game.

Danger zone: first base

The Atlanta Braves may have dodged a bullet with star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., who had to leave their game against the Toronto Blue Jays with an ankle injury he suffered tripping over the first base bag. 

“Those are scary moments for players, especially when they’ve got the torque and force he’s running with,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

X-rays on Acuña’s left ankle were negative, but that doesn’t mean the injury won’t remain a lingering issue. The Braves travel to Milwaukee for a weekend series against the Brewers so we’ll see if he’s on the Friday lineup card.

Acuña is now the third high-profile outfielder this season to get hurt trying to beat out an infield single. 

Luis Robert of the Chicago White Sox suffered a torn hip flexor when he hit the first-base bag awkwardly in a game on May 2. He has opted not to have surgery and hopes to be able to return in September.

Four days later, Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins suffered a Grade 2 hip strain on a similar play. He’s on the injured list and is expected to miss multiple weeks. 

Is it time for Major League Baseball to do something to make the bases safer? One of the experimental rule changes this season in the minor leagues has been to install slightly larger bases (18×18 inches instead of 15×15) in Class AAA games. The idea is to see if it will encourage more stolen base attempts.

A less-publicized feature is that the base is also shorter (2.5 inches off the ground vs. 3 inches), which could help reduce injuries — perhaps like the ones to Acuña, Robert and Buxton.  

Stats stars

Before he was injured, Acuña hit a home run leading off the bottom of the first inning. The homer was his major league-leading 12th of the season.

On the pitching side, St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty picked up his major league-leading seventh win of the season, tossing six scoreless innings in a 2-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. 

The Brewers’ Corbin Burnes got most of the attention in that game when his incredible streak of not walking a batter all season finally came to an end. But Flaherty and three Cardinals relievers had the upper hand. 

Follow Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner

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