The signs that Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez, Jesse Winker will be just fine

Apr 26, 2022, 8:45 AM
Julio Rodríguez and Jesse Winker react during the ninth inning of Sunday's game against the Royals. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners have one of the best performing offenses in the early going of this MLB season, and that’s even with some of their everyday players scuffling at the plate.

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Jesse Winker, Seattle’s biggest offseason addition for its lineup, is just 8 for 52 (.154 batting average) with only one hit for extra bases so far with the Mariners. Rookie Julio Rodríguez, meanwhile, is 11 for 56 (.196) and is second in all of baseball in strikeouts with 25.

How much of a concern are their performances with the bat? Maybe not as much as you would think.

Mike Blowers, a former MLB third baseman and the longtime color commentator for Mariners games on ROOT Sports, joined Seattle Sports Station’s Wyman and Bob on Monday and shared his reasons for believing both players will be just fine this season.

Let’s take a close look at what he had to say.

Julio Rodríguez building confidence

The good news for Rodríguez is that his .196 average is actually a sign of how much progress he’s made in the last week. He was hitting just .107 after an 0-for-3 night against Houston on April 16, but he’s gone 8 for 28 (.286) with two doubles, three walks and five RBIs in the seven games since, logging at least one hit in all but one of those games. And even when he makes outs on balls in play, it usually comes with some noise.

“If you look at Julio and what he’s done, he’s hitting the ball hard,” Blowers said. “He hit into a double play (Sunday), and you can’t hit the ball any harder but he hit it right at the shortstop. I think for him, he’s probably relaxing a little bit more. His plate discipline has been excellent all year long and I think now that he’s starting to get some hits, he’s starting to take off and building confidence from that.”

Having hits fall in, especially for a player like Rodríguez who has dealt with some terrible luck on called third strikes outside of the zone, is something Blowers said carries a lot of importance.

“As a young player, at some point you have to see the ball in the outfield grass. Everybody can tell you, ‘Hey, you’re hitting the ball hard, your plate discipline is good.’ But when you’re hitting .100, you can see it up on the scoreboard. And you’ve never struggled in your life and now (that) you are, you’re trying to figure it out. But once you start getting some hits, your confidence builds and you just go from there.”

Whether Rodríguez should start swinging more at pitches off the edge of the plate with two strikes has been a hot topic lately, but Blowers believes the good eye he has shown will start to pay off. The tide may already be turning, in fact, as he drew a bases-loaded walk on a pitch just below the strike zone that drove in the go-ahead run for Seattle in the eighth inning Saturday.

“Are you going to be disciplined in the strike zone or are you going to expand the zone because you don’t trust the process that you’re going through?” Blowers posed. “I think it’s impossible to do both. … And at times, you’re going to get a bad call against you. Now, unfortunately for Julio, the first two weeks have been ridiculous, but I think that his process is correct and I’d rather have him stay in the strike zone and swing at strikes. It’s going to pay off for him, and the bad calls, that’ll eventually go away and it’ll even out to where he’s starting to get calls. And we saw that when he walked with the bases loaded because that was a razor-edge pitch that was right at the bottom of the zone and he ended up getting that call.”

Blowers has a pretty good reason for thinking Rodríguez will start getting more calls.

“I’d rather have him just stay in the strike zone because the umpires, they get graded and they’re gonna see what’s happened to that young man. And the way that he has handled it is a plus for him because now all of a sudden they understand – the umpires do – that this young man knows what the strike zone is and I think the calls will start to switch the other way around and you’ll get the benefit from it.”

Blowers added that he likes the way Rodríguez has been able to have a positive impact in the field and on the bases – where he’s stolen six bases, which ranks second in the American League – even though his bat is still coming along.

“He’s done a really nice job in center field – he made a great catch the other day, his arm is a plus arm. We’ve seen him steal bases and now the hits are starting to fall for him, and I think he’s gonna start driving the ball more and we’ll see it in the gaps and out of the ballpark here shortly.”

Jesse Winker not pressing as Mariners addition

While most of Rodríguez’s bad luck has had to do with called strikes, Winker has had a hard time getting his hardest hits to show up as anything better than outs in the box score. He’s found better luck in recent days, at least, and with important results.

Winker followed up Rodríguez’s walk Saturday with a two-run double that pushed Seattle’s lead from one run to three, then had a tying sacrifice fly and the walk-off RBI single both in extra innings Sunday. Winker mentioned to ROOT Sports’ Jen Mueller in an on-field interview after the win that he broke a bat in seemingly every plate appearance Sunday, which Blowers said typifies how luck can be in baseball.

“I thought it was funny yesterday when Jen had him on the field when the game was over and just asked him the difference… and I love this comment. He said, ‘Yeah, I think I broke my bat every time today and I ended up getting a couple of RBIs and winning the game for us but I shattered my bat every time. And that’s the difference – I didn’t hit it hard.'”

A 2021 All-Star with Cincinnati, Winker isn’t off to the kind of start anybody expected at the plate. That being said, his struggles when he does swing haven’t caused him to expand the strike zone, and he leads the AL with 15 walks as a result. Blowers is impressed that Winker hasn’t pressed.

“I love the way that he has handled it all because I think for a lot of players, especially when you’re new to a team, it would be really difficult because you want to do well,” Blowers said. “He seems to not be fazed by it. I think because of his plate discipline, like we were talking about with Julio, he’s gonna be just fine. I think now, he ended up having a good game yesterday and the hits will start to fall for him. He’s somebody that I’m not worried about at all.”

You can hear Blowers’ full conversation with Wyman and Bob at this link or in the player below.

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