Knocking down the door? Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez wows with electric night

Apr 1, 2022, 12:04 AM | Updated: 12:58 am
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
Julio Rodríguez of the Mariners reacts a stolen base against the Rockies during 2021 spring traning. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It doesn’t get more exciting than the inside-the-park home run. Never mind if it comes in a spring training game, it is a remarkable feat. Thursday night in Peoria, Ariz., having already hit a single, walked, stolen a base and scored each of the Mariners’ two runs, Julio Rodríguez went for the third in dramatic fashion.

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Facing Cleveland Guardians flamethrower Emmanuel Clase, Rodríguez fouled a 100 mph offering straight back and got set for more. This time Clase went to the slider, and Rodriguez launched it the other way.

“Off the bat I knew I got it good,” Rodríguez after coming out of the game, a 3-2 Mariners win (box score). “I did not think it would go out but in my heart I knew it was not gone.”

Rodríguez put his head down and ran hard. He knew he had to go. The ball was heading for the wall in right center, splitting the defenders. A perfect spot for a triple, and as he rounded second, a perfect spot to show he had learned from a mistake the previous day.

“Today I picked up the third base coach not like yesterday,” Rodríguez cracked, pointing out a baserunning mistake that cost the team a run the day before. “(Mariners third base coach Manny Acta) was just sending me as soon as I touched the bag because I was sprinting right away.”

That sprint ended in a headfirst slide into home plate, well ahead of the throw.

“Wow!” exclaimed Mariners assistant manager Justin Hollander, who was on the Seattle Sports radio broadcast at the time of the play.

Wow indeed. It was hard to believe what he had just witnessed. A player Julio’s size gliding around the bases is not a regular sight in baseball.

“When we played the D-backs at Salt River Field (the only park in the Cactus League with Statcast), they got Julio at 30.5 feet per second down the line,” said Hollander. “That’s Byron Buxton, Trea Turner. That’s crazy. I was stunned when our guys sent it across.”

The Mariners knew that Rodríguez went to work on his speed in the offseason working with trainers in Miami. Over the past three years they have seen him go from moving well for a big kid, to showing actual speed, to a different level altogether.

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“I did not have Julio as that kind of runner,” said Hollander. “It’s a credit to him that he has worked his butt off to change his body and get more explosive. It’s incredible to watch right now.”

Rodríguez, not one to doubt his talents, is happy to see the results of his work.

“It’s just a huge difference,” he said. “I felt like I had a nice speed, but (my trainer) sat me down and told me we have room to improve, to make you faster without you even getting faster, just by running better. I feel like I have added more strength in my body, trimmed it down, shaped it out in a better way.”

The work went beyond what he could do on the bases, with Julio working on his first step quickness, stability, how to cut angles and be in the best positions to change direction in the outfield. By his estimation, Rodríguez put in as much time on his running as he did with the rest of his baseball skills this offseason.

“It was the same, it was the same,” he said. “I like to max every skill I have – running, throwing, hitting. It was the same time if not more than hitting. I want to be the best athlete I can possibly be on the diamond.”

Aside from the speed he displayed Thursday night, Rodríguez bounced back from what Mariners manager Scott Servais called a “learning day” on Wednesday that included the baserunning error and three strikeouts.

“It’s a ton of credit to Julio too, because he had the rough day yesterday and he comes out here today and he’s awesome,” Hollander said, “and that’s really what it takes if you are going to be in the big leagues. What Julio is doing tonight it is just so impressive.”

Rodríguez said that he is someone who can put a bad day behind him quickly. He understands where he is in the process of becoming a big leaguer.

“I learn from it,” he said of Wednesday’s game. “All the guys picked me up, which was nice. they show me that you are good but you are just learning. That’s how I do it, it’s learning for me and now I am able to perform today.”

There was certainly no evidence Thursday of the struggle the day before. Not in the box score or in person as Rodríguez displayed a little extra in the game against the Guardians. A fist pump after a catch on the warning track in center, a playful fake takeoff after stealing second, the celebration after sliding into home, and the trot off the field and wave to the fans as he left the game. He did not have the look of a player worrying about making a club for opening day.

“It’s just an everyday thing for me,” he said. “I like having fun. I’m living my dream. I’m playing baseball. This is what I love to do, so why not do it and enjoy? There are a lot of kids out there that are watching me play, yelling out my name. I feel that I can give them the best impression of myself that I can.”

The kids aren’t the only ones getting the best impression of Rodríguez this spring. The question has been asked over and over – what does he need to show? What more can he do to earn a spot on the Mariners’ plane to Minneapolis for opening day next week? It would appear the boxes have been checked.

“The patience he is exhibiting, the swing decisions, what he is doing defensively, he’s just been awesome all camp long,” said Hollander. “I had very high expectations coming in, but he has exceeded those expectations.”

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