SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Mariners’ 3B platoon has taken off, and earned more action

May 6, 2024, 12:44 AM

Seattle Mariners Luis Urías...

Luis Urías celebrates his home run with Seattle Mariners 3B coach Manny Acta on May 4, 2024. (Jack Gorman/Getty Images)

(Jack Gorman/Getty Images)

A near collision in the outfield Sunday afternoon in Houston on a Yordan Álvarez popup perhaps sent shivers down a spine or two, with two good pieces of the Seattle Mariners’ offense momentarily in peril.

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No, the potential collision didn’t involve the young center fielder. Rather, the third basemen – both of them, with one coming at the other from left field. Fortunately, the third baseman third baseman heard the left fielder third baseman call him off, and disaster was averted.

That’s probably overdramatizing the situation – both players appeared in control – but it’s tough to overstate the importance of the production the Mariners have had from the third base position this season.

Yes, the position many were most worried about coming into the season is the position that has been most productive, with Josh Rojas and Luis Urías combining to post the second-best wRC+ at third in the American League this season. They are No. 1 and No. 3 in both wRC+ and OPS on the team, with Rojas in the top spots (179 wRC+/1.029 OPS) and Urías third (112/.728).

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Mariners manager Scott Servais said Saturday that he would likely put Rojas in left field against some righties in an attempt to get Urías more playing time. He was rewarded for the move Sunday with Rojas going 3 for 4 with an RBI, and Urías (who homered Saturday) driving in the game-tying run with a single in the eighth inning.

“Wow,” Servais said after the game. “The strategy just works once in a while. You have a feel with your guys and you know, Luis Urías doesn’t get enough credit. He has been a very productive everyday player in the big leagues, and we want to make sure he stays sharp and you’re going to give him games against right-handed pitching.”

It’s a move that Rojas, who has had some experience in the outfield at the big league level, was enthused about.

“I didn’t say anything, but I’ve been thinking kind of the same thing,” Rojas said following Sunday’s 5-4 win over the Astros. “I have the ability to move around, and we’ve got two guys swinging the bat really well (who play) the same spot and it’s kind of tough to keep things going. I get a little more (playing time) because there’s more righties, but with him, kind of waiting every few days to face the lefties, it’s tough. So I was excited when they told me that I’d get a chance to go out to left and get us both in the lineup.”

Rojas sees the opportunity to get Urías on a roll well worth the effort of going to the outfield from time to time.

“I’ve had a conversations with him about playing every couple days,” Rojas said. “I think his last three matchups were (Atlanta’s Chris) Sale, Framber (Valdez of Houston) and (Atlanta’s Max) Fried, and then he got in the other night off (Houston closer Josh) Hader. Those are really tough at-bats, especially when you’re not playing every day, and even with those those sporadic plate appearances, he’s going up there, he’s competing, he’s got three homers. He’s been going up there and putting up great at-bats.”

While Rojas was all for the move, it was clearly not one he saw coming into the season. The tipoff here? Rojas didn’t have an outfielders glove. Last week when late changes forced him into left at the end of a game, he grabbed Sam Haggerty’s glove to use for the final innings. Sunday, it was George Kirby’s he used. Why Kirby’s? In recent days he had been scouting outfield gloves during batting practice and the one Kirby used to shag caught his eye.

“It’s a really nice glove,” he said with a smile.

As for his offense, batting .360 with a 1.029 OPS, Rojas is enjoying the run he is on.

“It’s kind of just a perfect storm for me right now,” he said. “My body feels good. The swing feels good most days, and the approach has been working. When I make soft contact it happens to find holes lately. You love when you get soft contact for knocks and really, I’m just trying to put the ball in play and not strike out.”

Mission accomplished with a strikeout rate of just 13.8% for the season. In eight games in the leadoff spot, he has been even better, striking out just two times while slashing .500/.588/1.000 (1.588 OPS). Those numbers are obviously not sustainable but are very welcome, along with everything else Rojas has brought to the team this season.

“You can’t say enough about the job Rojas has done with J.P. Crawford out at the top of our line up,” Servais said. “What he has done has been phenomenal. I talk about it all the time, his baseball IQ, understanding what the situation calls for and knowing what he’s looking for. He’s a really good baserunner. He handled left field no problems at all. He’s just a good baseball player and you can’t have enough of those guys.”

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