Jarred Kelenic Thriving in Leadoff Role for Braves

By Olivia Sayer

Atlanta Braves outfielder Jarred Kelenic (24) runs the bases after hitting. two-run home run in the fifth off Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Ryan Pepiot in the fifth inning of a baseball game Saturday, June 15, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA – Jarred Kelenic stepped into the batter’s box on a sunny afternoon at Truist Park. With the series against Tampa Bay on the line, he took a first pitch cutter for a strike. On the second pitch, Kelenic decided to swing on a curveball located over the heart of the plate. He sent it to the Chop House in right field for his first-career leadoff home run.

The 409-foot shot was the second in as many days for Atlanta’s lefty, who hit leadoff for just the second time this season. Kelenic is thriving at the plate since the switch, batting .289 with a .896 OPS in nine games. Three of his seven home runs have come in the leadoff spot.

“Guys see that as an opportunity,” manager Brian Snitker said of Kelenic’s response to batting leadoff. “And some guys respond to the opportunities they get.”

After reigning Most Valuable Player Ronald Acuña Jr. suffered a season-ending ACL tear in May, many pointed to Michael Harris II and Ozzie Albies as replacements. Both showcased the traditional elements of leadoff hitters, such as speed and the ability to get on base.

Snitker agreed and alternated Harris and Albies depending upon the opposing starter. Harris primarily got the job against right-handers, while Albies’ power from either side made him a threat to all left-handers.

The plan worked until Harris suffered an injury running the bases. His absence opened the door for Kelenic, who until that point, hit in the bottom third of Atlanta’s order. Kelenic said his mindset batting leadoff is the same as when he was batting ninth.

“My job is just to get on-base,” Kelenic said. “I [have] so many aircraft carrier guys behind me, so just getting on first base, I’m in scoring position with those guys.”

Since Kelenic took the reins of the leadoff spot, the Braves are 5-3. He entered Atlanta’s series with the Cardinals on a 10-game hitting streak, which tied a career-high.

“He should be confident,” Snitker said. “His at-bats have been really, really good.”

The lineup decision by Snitker is not the first one to have paid off. Last season, he dropped Matt Olson to fourth in the batting order while moving Albies to second. Olson went on to break the Braves’ records for single season home runs and single season RBIs, while Albies finished with career-highs in both.

Snitker joked he did not give Kelenic any hitting advice after making the change. “If I talked to him, all I’d do is screw him up,” Snitker said, laughing.

The Braves acquired Kelenic in December with a five-player trade. Atlanta sent pitchers Jackson Kowar and Cole Phillips to the Mariners for Kelenic and two additional players. Since joining Seattle, both Kowar and Phillips underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery. Kelenic’s tenure with Atlanta did not get off to the hottest of starts, as he began Spring Training 3-for-42 (0.07). Hitting coach Kevin Seitzer worked with the 24-year-old on simplifying his approach.

“For him, there’s a lot of different moves going on, simplifying [the] approach more than what he was doing when he got here,” Seitzer said in Spring Training. “Now, it’s a matter of him getting his timing.”

It’s sufficient to say Kelenic found his timing and is embracing his newfound role as the Braves’ leadoff hitter.

“Just trying to treat it as one at-bat at a time,” Kelenic said after finishing 3-for-5 in his first leadoff start. “It allows me to just be present in the box and makes me not get too big [or] let the lows get too low. It just makes me stay even-keel and play chess against the pitcher.” The Braves are in the midst of an eight-game road trip. After playing a make-up game against the White Sox Thursday, Atlanta will return home for a weekend series against the Pirates.

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