New Storm Chasers reliever Kevin Lenik’s rapid rise comes up short of victory against Fresno

New Storm Chasers reliever Kevin Lenik’s rapid rise comes up short of victory against Fresno
World-Herald News Service

Kevin Lenik’s storybook 2017 season nearly included a Triple-A victory Monday.

Omaha’s new reliever retired all nine batters he faced in a 6-4 loss to Fresno at Werner Park but missed the chance for a win when the Storm Chasers stranded two runners in the seventh inning of a tie game.

Lenik, who was pitching for the Windy City ThunderBolts of the independent Frontier League not long ago, blanked the Grizzlies in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings in his longest outing with Omaha yet.

“Really, I just tried to go one pitch at a time,” the 6-foot-5 right-hander said. “That’s what my mentality has been for a while now. I just stay within myself one pitch at a time and go at it as best as I can. You can’t really control the next pitch and you can’t control the last pitch. You can only control this pitch.”

That approach has gotten Lenik a long way. He’s rapidly risen in the Kansas City system this summer.

But it’s how he ended up with the Royals that’s so intriguing. After playing high school baseball as a freshman against players such as Mike Moustakas and Giancarlo Stanton in the Los Angeles area, Lenik stepped away from the game to focus on football and basketball after transferring to a different school.

He picked up baseball again at College of the Canyons, playing outfield for the two-year school. Lenik then went on to Hawaii Pacific before finishing his college career at Division II Cal State Dominguez Hills.

He never pitched until the final few games of his senior year, and he hit the mid-90s with his fastball.

Lenik’s story got really crazy from there. He didn’t get drafted so he drove for Uber and worked as a personal trainer before going with a friend to USC. There he met up with pitching guru Tom House, who took him under his wing for seven months. He returned to baseball in the California Winter League.

The Texas Rangers signed him from there. Lenik went to spring training with them this season after 17 outings with their short-season affiliate last year. But he was released 10 days into spring training.

“I drove home to L.A., and I had family and friends waiting,” he said. “They were like, ‘What are you going to do?’ I just picked up my stuff, dropped off my suitcase and went to the field to start throwing.”

The call from the ThunderBolts came a short time later. He went 1-0 with a save in 11 relief appearances for the Frontier League team in Crestwood, Illinois, before he was signed by K.C. He made his debut in the organization with the rookie-level team in Burlington in late June. Lenik pitched twice there and five more times in Low-A Lexington before joining the Chasers in El Paso last Monday.

Lenik was half asleep on a road trip with Lexington when promoted. He thought it was a room check.

“It was kind of an uneasy feeling,” he said. “But it was a time when preparation meets opportunity.”

Lenik has made four appearances in eight days with the Chasers. He’s allowed only one run.

Monday’s game was decided after he exited. Fresno’s Juan Centenaro blooped a double in front of center fielder Billy Burns in the eighth inning to break a 4-4 tie and put the Grizzlies up to stay.

Frank Schwindel had three hits for Omaha and extended his hitting streak to 17 games.

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