SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners address frustrating strike calls against rookie Julio Rodríguez

Apr 29, 2022, 10:18 AM | Updated: 10:56 am

Mariners manager Scott Servais protests a call by umpire Shane Livensparger on Thursday. (Photo by ...

Mariners manager Scott Servais protests a call by umpire Shane Livensparger on Thursday. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

(Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

The Mariners may only be three games into a nine-game road trip, but with everything that has happened in that time, it feels more like a full week.

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On Tuesday, the Mariners appeared to be off to a fantastic start to the trip with the offense scoring eight runs in Game 1 against the Rays. By the end of the first series Thursday, though, they had added just three runs to that total.

In Game 1, the Rays used six relievers – never a good thing at the start of a series. By Thursday morning, it was the Mariners who had to bring up reinforcements with Marco Gonzales getting knocked out of Game 2 in the first inning after he took a comebacker off his left forearm.

In Tampa, we saw the return of reliever Paul Sewald and were encouraged to see Mitch Haniger rejoin the team after missing time with COVID. What we haven’t seen yet, though, is Haniger play, as he was still dealing with congestion and wasn’t yet 100% during the series with the Rays. He was activated Friday morning ahead of the weekend series in Miami, though.

We saw the surprise return of manager Scott Servais an hour before Game 1, two hours after Kris Negron did the manager’s pregame radio interview. Servais, who also was out due to COVID, came back with new eyes having watched the team on TV for a week. For a week, he had the same view that most fans have, and that perhaps gave him a little extra Thursday in the sixth inning when he saw yet another call go against Julio Rodríguez.

This one was a double whammy in the eyes of Servais. Rodríguez held up on his swing on a 2-1 pitch, and first base umpire Tom Hallion called it a check. When the next pitch missed the strike zone, home plate umpire Shane Livensparger – who is a replacement umpire up from the minors – held up two fingers on each hand indicating the count was 2-2, rather than the 3-2 count it should have been after the check swing. When the next pitch came in high and Julio did not walk to first base, Servais came out of the dugout for an explanation.

“I run out there and ‘What is going on out here?’ and he says ‘I never asked for his help at first base,'” Servais said after the game, recounting his conversation with Livensparger. “I said, ‘He’s calling it safe.’ Obviously (Livensparger) got it wrong and he said, ‘No, I called it on the the pitch,’ and then I said that’s absolutely ridiculous and then he rung him up and I had other things to say there.”

As he has all season long regardless of the calls, Rodríguez kept his cool in the moment. But after the game, he admitted that the events of that at-bat were perplexing.

“I thought it was a ball,” Rodríguez said of the fourth pitch. “I thought they called to check it. Then everybody says safe and then it was like a strike and I said, ‘Hold on.’ That was a bad pitch. That was a terrible pitch. It was up in the zone. It was clearly a ball. I was confused but when I saw Scott coming in I was like, ‘He’s hot.’ I didn’t even know what to say in that moment.”

Servais had plenty to say after the sixth pitch of the at-bat, which again missed high but was called strike 3. He re-emerged from the dugout and was ejected by Livensparger. After the game, he did not hold back.

“What’s going on with Julio Rodríguez right now is not right,” he said. “I think it’s his 15th called strike 3, on pitches that are outside the strike zone. I sat home for a week and watched it out on COVID – very frustrating. I give all the credit in the world to Julio. Not many people could handle things the way he has. He’s not barked back, he’s not changed his approach, he’s not chasing balls outside the strike zone, but it’s wrong. He’s 21 years old. Let the kid play.”

When asked if there was any recourse the team could take, perhaps a letter to the league documenting what has taken place, Servais revealed that step had been taken in recent days. While not a formal step, it is not unheard of for a team to alert the league about irregularities in the game. The documentation should be fairly straightforward.

It’s hard to believe that this is some sort of rookie hazing by the umpires. Did the four crews that officiated the six series the Mariners have played this season really conspire to keep Julio Rodríguez down? It’s more likely they are struggling with the strike zone and Julio for whatever reason is taking the brunt of those struggles. Unfortunately, in talking with Rodríguez after the game, you can see the frustration is growing. It’s a frustration he likely never could have imagined encountering in his first month of the big leagues.

“I feel like, if you think about it, a good at-bat if it had been a walk instead of a strikeout, probably something positive for the team,” he said. “I would be at first, I could be able to steal second or make something happen for the team. Having that so easily taken away because somebody just… I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. I feel like I have been playing respectful, talking to everybody nice. I don’t know if they have got something against me. I honestly don’t know.”

It’s tough to see someone who has so much enthusiasm for the game question what he has done wrong, or, worse yet, wonder if what is going on is personal. MLB itself should be concerned about this. The one saving grace in Julio’s struggle with the calls is that he has felt the support of his manager and those in the Mariners dugout.

“Definitely I feel really good that he has got my back,” Rodríguez said of Servais. “(The umpires) have been doing that for a minute now and I just feel really good that he actually got my back.”

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