Mariners’ Servais: Julio ‘trying to be a little bit more’ than himself

May 10, 2023, 11:39 AM

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodriguez...

Manager Scott Servais reacts after Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners strikes out on March 31, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It’s no secret the Seattle Mariners haven’t gotten off to the start they were hoping for this year, and that’s largely because of their hitting.

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Despite having arguably the best pitching staff in baseball entering Wednesday’s series finale with the Texas Rangers, the Mariners are just 18-18 as they rank last in baseball in team batting average, 20th in runs scored and 25th in OPS.

So how does manager Scott Servais handle talking to players about their struggles? He discussed that and his best player’s early-season hitting woes with Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Wednesday.

“I think when you have those discussions, I always try to put myself in the player’s shoes. And I was in those shoes. I had many seasons where I was struggling for stretches of time,” Servais said. “I try to go back and lean on the things that I thought helped me or resonated with me.”

The main thing to know, Servais said, is that every player is different, so you have to communicate with different guys in different ways.

“I’m not going to talk with Julio (Rodríguez) the same way I would talk with Ty (France) and J.P. (Crawford),” Servais said. “They’re just at different points in their career and they understand maybe their swing or their approach a little bit differently. You really have to be individualized. You cannot just say, ‘OK, here’s how I did it, you need to start doing it this way,’ or, ‘These what the numbers sa, you need to start doing this better.’ The players know. They know they’re struggling. And our job is just to try and relieve some of the pressure and try to get them to relax a little bit and get them into a happy place.”

Rodríguez was the American League Rookie of the Year in 2022 and also made the All-Star Game while finishing seventh in AL MVP voting. Rodríguez hasn’t had that kind of success in 2023, though, and he’s actually hitting sixth in Seattle’s lineup on Wednesday after hitting leadoff in every other game he’s played in this season.

So what does Servais see from his 22-year-old center fielder?

“He’s exactly where he was last year at this point if you want to look at the numbers,” Servais said with a bit of a laugh.

Indeed, Rodríguez struggled out of the gate as a rookie last year.

In his first 34 games in 2022, Rodríguez slashed .264/.329/.368 (.697 OPS) with two home runs, 13 RBI, eight extra-base hits and a 43-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Additionally, 31.4% of his plate appearances ended in a punchout.

Through 34 games this year, Rodríguez is slashing .204/.271/.387 (.658 OPS) with six home runs, 15 RBI, 13 extra-base hits and a 45-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio. So far, 29% of Rodríguez’s plate appearances have resulted in a strikeout.

Last year, Rodríguez broke out of that slow start in a major way, emerging as one of baseball’s brightest stars. Servais anticipates the same thing happening again this year.

“He was off to a slow start and it started to click for him about this time,” he said. “Julio is frustrated, he has very, very high expectations for himself. And nobody cares about the team’s success maybe more than Julio on our team, and he’s wearing that a little bit. So just trying to relieve some of the pressure, just be Julio. I say it to all our guys guys all the time – just be you. And right now, he’s trying to be a little bit more than that, and it’s a very high bar that he put up there last year and he wants to be at that level every day.”

Simply put, things aren’t “clicking” for Rodríguez right now, Servais said.

“The talent is still there, the want to, the work ethic, the being a good teammate, all those things are still there. Just got to slow it down a little bit,” Servais said. “I’d love to see him take a few hits into right-center field because I know that’s when Julio is at his best. He’ll get there. I fully expect him to get there. I think it might start today.”

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