Salk: How Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez, Diego Castillo are standing out right now

Jun 6, 2022, 12:44 PM
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
Julio Rodríguez celebrates a home run against the Athletics on May 23. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners are making their way back towards .500, having won six for their last nine games on their way to three straight series victories.

Drayer’s Mariners Notebook: Stories from M’s three straight series wins

Seattle now goes into a huge series at Houston starting Monday night with a 24-30 record, and while that doesn’t look great on paper, it’s only three games out of a wild card spot as only five AL teams are currently above .500.

In recent games, the M’s have shown a resiliency similar to the 2021 team that used a ton of wins in one-run games to finish with a 90-72 record, and a few players are jumping out to Seattle Sports Station’s Mike Salk from that run for the big differences they’re making in close games.

Here’s a look at what he had to say on Monday’s edition of The Mike Salk Show, which came after the Mariners’ 6-5 comeback win over the Rangers on Sunday in 10 innings where Seattle scored three runs in the ninth to force extra innings, which was the third time in four games the M’s either came back in the late innings or won in extras.

Julio Rodríguez, game-changer

Mariners rookie Julio Rodríguez is looking like a game-changer on the field, and for multiple reasons.

The 21 year old is maybe the fastest player in Major League Baseball, currently leading the league with 17 stolen bases on 20 attempts. He’s stepped into center field and looked every bit the part. And his bat is providing what the Mariners hoped it would, which was a big reason he was named AL Rookie of the Month for May last week.

“He constantly amazes me the way that he finds to affect games,” Salk said.

Sunday’s win over the Rangers is a prime example of that. In the fifth inning, Rodríguez singled with one out. With two outs, he stole second base. In the same at-bat, Eugenio Suárez hit a single to left field, which Rodríguez scored easily on to tie the game 2-2, getting a head start because there were two outs. Then in the ninth with Seattle trailing 5-3 following Ty France’s one-out solo homer, Rodríguez followed with a single to keep the rally going. J.P. Crawford hit a single of his own after that, and Suárez tied the game with a blast to center.

“The hit he got in the ninth (Sunday), that doesn’t happen that often,” Salk said. “You get a home run from Ty France, solo shot, it’s 5-3. Great, you’re closer, but how many times have you watched a game where your team is down multiple runs and they hit some sort of a solo shot and you’re just like, ‘Eh?’ … So when France hit it yesterday I was like, ‘Unfortunately, that’s probably going to be the death knell for them.’ And instead the next batter is Julio and he comes up with a huge single – by the way 109 mph off the bat, hit it on the ground but just blasted it by the shortstop – and then the next thing you know you get a little bloop from J.P. Crawford that just falls in and then the huge shot from Suárez to bring them both around. But you don’t get that without Julio doing his thing.”

That’s not the only thing Julio is doing, either.

“Maybe it’s the catch he made up against the wall in center field. Maybe it’s the stolen base. Maybe it’s a home run. Maybe it’s a big single in that moment,” Salk said. “Whatever it is, he is just finding ways to affect every baseball game he plays. … The way Julio finds ways to affect games is really amazing to me for a guy his age. He had a phenomenal month of May and so far he seems to be continuing that right into June. He is already a very good player with the possibility of really becoming a great one over the next year or two.

“His speed, his power, how hard he hits the ball, his decision making – (and) his play in center field has probably been the biggest surprise. Remember how worried we were about that heading into the year? ‘Oh, what are they going to do about center field defense?’ It has not been an issue at all. It’s been tremendous. And then the fun factor, just off the charts.”

Castillo provides Mariners some bullpen stability

Maybe the biggest drop-off Seattle has experienced this season from last is with the bullpen. Injuries have ravaged Seattle’s relief pitchers, and the early struggles by Diego Castillo, who the Mariners traded for last year to be a high-leverage arm, didn’t help matters.

The good news is Castillo has now made five straight scoreless outings, lowering his ERA from 9.00 to 6.16, and the biggest yet may have been Sunday. He worked around a hit, which was the only baserunner he’s allowed in his last five games, and struck out three after Seattle’s comeback in the ninth to force a 10th inning, where the Mariners pushed across a run and Paul Sewald recorded the save.

“He’s saving their bacon right now,” Salk said of Castillo. “What you need in order to have a successful bullpen is at least two guys that you can count on. You need more than that, honestly, but if you don’t have two, you don’t have a bullpen and you literally can’t manage the ends of games.”

The lack of reliable options in the bullpen was a big reason the Mariners were in the spot they were in the ninth inning Sunday. The bullpen was given the ball in a 2-2 game in the seventh inning, but Andrés Muñoz gave up a solo shot in that frame and Sergio Romo gave up a two-run homer in the eighth, making it a 5-2 Texas lead.

“I saw some criticism of (manager Scott Servais) for bringing Romo in while they were down (Sunday). Who was it you wanted? They only have so many options,” Salk said. “At least Romo’s a veteran who’s gotten it done in the past. I know there’s been some calls for Penn Murfee. … Who do you trust right now? Is it Anthony Misiewicz? I mean, tell me who on this roster you trust right now in your bullpen. You’re kind of down to two guys, Paul Sewald and Diego Castillo.”

Those two can be pointed to as why Seattle pulled out Sunday’s win.

“Unfortunately, they’ve been in a spot where you really need to have more guys in your pen you can count on, but right now they at least have two and that’s because Diego Castillo has turned himself back into the pitcher that they thought they were acquiring last year. He’s been filthy. He’s been throwing a few more fastballs, the slider has been deadly. … Good job by him because he’s really sort of made Scott Servais’ life bearable. There’s nothing that will ruin a manager’s life quite like having a bullpen that gives it up over and over again.”

You can listen to the full segment from The Mike Salk Show in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez talks Rookie of the Month honors, dealing with expectations

Date Starting Pitcher
Thursday, March 30 @ 7:10 pm Guardians' Shane Bieber RHP vs. Mariners' Luis Castillo RHP

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Salk: How Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez, Diego Castillo are standing out right now