Rost: 2 ways for Mariners’ offense out of its early-season slump

May 10, 2023, 10:46 AM

Seattle Mariners...

Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 28, 2023. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

(Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners aren’t doing what you want them to do right now. And you know what? Given the expectations surrounding the 2023 season, it’s fair to be upset about that.

Tuesday: Kirby sharp as Seattle Mariners blank Rangers 5-0

The offense has been abysmal far too often. That’s not to say there hasn’t been good news.

Jarred Kelenic and the pitching staff have been your early MVPs.

Kelenic has been playing his best baseball, recording seven home runs and slashing .310/.372/.631 in April. One of the M’s biggest strengths, pitching, has remained so despite injuries.

But their third-best 3.35 ERA isn’t being complimented with much. Seattle hitters rank second in strikeouts per game (9.75) and are 21st in home runs (38). With a team identity that prides controlling the zone at the plate in addition to excellent pitching and defense, the Mariners are playing like the team they want to be about half the time.

We didn’t get every single answer to the M’s hitting woes during this week’s edition of The Dugout (we’re sorry!) but we did continue to key in on the issue. And it’s a good place to start ahead of a tough May schedule.

Here are few things we learned during The Dugout, where we’re joined by several baseball insiders to talk Mariners from noon to 2 p.m. every Tuesday during Seattle Sports’ Bump an Stacy.

Ironing out an April identity crisis

“They could not pitch the ball, realistically, any better than they have to begin the season,” Mariners broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith said Tuesday we he joined us. “You hope that things stay consistent one year to the next when the personnel largely is unchanged and the philosophy is definitely unchanged and has remained static and strong as always… The philosophy (from a hitter’s perspective) is to swing at strikes, attack the strike zone. And that’s where you’re seeing things not play out as scripted for the Mariners this year, despite the fact that the personnel is largely unchanged.”

There’s no easy fix, but there’s an opportunity to fix it. Quite a few, in fact. And that begins with a few big tests in May.

The Mariners took two of three from the defending World Series champion Houston Astros to begin the month. They’re in the midst of a three-game series against the AL-West leading Rangers, who are second league-wide in total runs scored. Following is a three-series, East Coast road trip that includes stops against the Red Sox and Braves, the latter of which are second in MLB in home runs, slugging and OPS.

A series at T-Mobile Park at the end of May against Oakland might feel like a breather, but that 10-game homestand also includes a series against the surprising Pirates (21-16), who lead the league in stolen bases, and the Yankees, whose overall record (19-17) doesn’t reflect their excellent pitching or the fact that Aaron Judge just returned from the injured list.

What’s improvement look like in May? Goldsmith cautioned that the Mariners are not, and have never been, a team that hits for a high average, so don’t look for that to skyrocket. But they do need to get on base more often and lower their strikeouts.

Making the struggle part of your DNA

The Mariners also need more contributions from under-performing players, including Julio Rodríguez.

Mariners insider Shannon Drayer told The Dugout what she’s seeing from Seattle’s young star. Yes, he needs to shrink the strike zone, but according to Drayer, he also needs to work through a new challenge:

“If Julio’s your concern, I think that one is easier to calm than the overall picture with the offense right now,” Drayer said. “You can point to some mechanical things that are going on, but I think the bigger thing with Julio right now is he’s just in a place he’s never been before… What we’re seeing right now is a true struggle, and while he might’ve struggled for a week or two in the past, he hasn’t had one of this size.”

Rodríguez is hovering in the 15th percentile for strikeout percentage and the 16th percentile for chase rate, per Statcast. It’s far from an abysmal start to the season, but it certainly doesn’t meet the sky-high expectations facing Rodriguez entering the year.

“The players aren’t supposed to look at the numbers, you’re supposed to look at the process,” Drayer said. “Julio is very process-driven, but he also puts a lot of himself. I mean, this is his team, he wants this to be his team, and he was the top WAR-getter for this team by whole points last year. He’s that important to this group. And that’s a lot to carry… I feel fully confident he’s going to get out of it, but it’s the process he has to go through. And when he does go through it, he’ll have this as part of his DNA and he’ll have the tools to get through it again.”

More on the Seattle Mariners

Fann’s Mariners Takeaways: ESPN’s Passan on Julio, trade targets
Close look: 3 players helping Mariners get into a groove
More Mariners bad blood with Astros: Why benches cleared again
Mariners call up prospect Juan Then; Penn Murfee to IL
Photo Gallery: Seattle Mariners debut City Connect uniforms on the field

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