BROCK AND SALK
FOX’s Benetti dives into Julio Rodríguez’s 2nd-year slump for Mariners
May 22, 2023, 2:29 PM
(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
The second year in the big leagues is not going as smoothly for star Seattle Mariners center fielder Julio Rodríguez as his breakout rookie season went.
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The 22-year-old Rodríguez owns a slash line of just .204/.280/.376 for a .656 OPS in 44 games, which is well off his 2022 line of .284/.345/.509 for an .853 OPS. Perhaps most troubling is that his chase rate is 34.4% and strikeout rate is 28.5%, both of which are small increases from a year ago and hit a little harder considering his batting average in play has dropped to .256 from .345 last season.
So what’s going on?
MLB on FOX play by play announcer Jason Benetti, who called the Mariners-Braves game on Saturday, joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Monday and shared some insight that may help explain Rodríguez’s struggles. Here are a few things he said to hosts Brock Huard and Mike Salk.
Why is Julio Rodríguez having a tougher time in 2023?
To answer that question, let’s detail a few things Benetti said he’s learned from covering MLB this season.
“I think we as discussers of baseball are not talking enough about the balanced schedule,” Benetti said, pointing to the fact that every MLB team is playing each of the 29 other squads in at least one series this year for the first time, which means division rivals are not seeing each other as often as before. “Even if you (talk about) it every day on your show, I don’t think it’s enough because when you’re not playing 19 games against the same team, you’re seeing different pitchers much more often and I do think there’s an adjustment to that.”
Benetti calls Chicago White Sox games during the week, and he shared a recent conversation he had with veteran shortstop Elvis Andrus and former MLB infielder Gordon Beckham that illustrates how tough the game has become on hitters.
“I do think people are really ramping up their scouting. I was talking to Elvis Andrus about a month ago in the White Sox clubhouse, Gordon Beckham was down there as well, and they were talking about when they first came up into the majors it was like you could go a month and do the same stuff, and if people didn’t know you, they didn’t know you. Now, it’s like a day later (they have you scouted). That thing that was a strength, they’re going to find another hole and they’re never going to do what they used to do to you again. So I think that more negatively impacts younger players.”
While Benetti said he wasn’t sure that’s exactly why Rodríguez was scuffling, he wasn’t ruling it out. There’s also the fact that pitchers, which are seemingly getting better every year, are now approaching him based on his superstar rookie season.
“I think part of it is simply it’s getting harder to hit,” he said. “Every year, you’re seeing more breaking balls, every year pitch design gets more dastardly. I think that’s part of this. I also think that even if you are the biggest star in the game, there are going to be things that make you feel poor. (Braves star Ronald) Acuña, for example, has the injury two years ago, and talking to those people there, it sapped his power last year when he was coming back from the injury. So I think a lot of different variables are there. … All of the things around Julio are different this year, including the way he’s getting pitched in some regard, and he’s getting pitched as a star. I just think that might be the simplest way to put it, right? He’s getting pitched as a star. Although the breaking ball/fastball numbers are close to the same, if you look at percentages, I do think he’s seeing different pitches in different counts if you went deeper there.”
A positive sign for the Seattle Mariners star?
While Rodríguez had just one hit in the Mariners’ series loss in Atlanta, he did draw three walks in the Mariners’ lone win over the Braves on Saturday that Benetti called. That could be a good sign, though it could also be seen differently because it was a bullpen day for the Braves.
“I did wonder that if taking three walks in a game was actually a really good sign,” Benetti said. “I mean, we’ll see this week if that’s true, but I thought three walks in a game actually was a pretty good sign on a day when you’re seeing a bunch of different arms. The counter position to that is it’s on an a bullpen day and you should probably be doing more damage on a day like that so it might be another sign that he’s just in between.”
So what’s Benetti’s ultimate read on what’s going with Rodríguez? He offered that take along with a note from a conversation he had with St. Louis Cardinals manager Oli Marmol about seven-time All-Star Nolan Arenado.
“My feeling is it’s a consistency issue in terms of quality of at-bat. It doesn’t look like the chase rate is astronomically higher, but it does feel like he just doesn’t feel good. I was talking to Oli Marmol about Arenado, and he was like, ‘Look, Nolan’s one of those guys that just you cannot convince is feeling good if he’s not feeling good.’ I don’t know where Julio is on that spectrum, but if he can convince himself that he’s feeling good, all it takes is two or three days in this thing, especially with how bunched up the American League is.”
Rodríguez has been hitting third in the order lately for the Mariners as he tries to shake off his slump, but Benetti believes Seattle manager Scott Servais will eventually look to return to him the leadoff spot once he gets back into a groove.
“When Julio Rodríguez is going, he should be what Acuña is to the top of the lineup for Atlanta,” he said, “and I know Scott Servais wants to do that. So when Julio starts hitting and he’s the fearsome No. 1 guy, I think that’s the big step.”
You can listen to the full Brock and Salk conversation with Benetti in the podcast below.
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