Why Mariners should keep Josh Rojas in leadoff spot

May 9, 2024, 1:42 AM | Updated: 10:03 am

Seattle Mariners third baseman Josh Rojas...

Josh Rojas of the Seattle Mariners fields the ball during a 2024 game. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

For as much as the Seattle Mariners have struggled offensively this season, there’s been one consistently shining bright spot in their lineup.

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It hasn’t been star center fielder Julio Rodríguez or key offseason acquisitions Jorge Polanco and Mitch Garver. Cal Raleigh has had some huge moments, but even he has been stuck in neutral at times at the plate. The offensive star for the Mariners early on is third baseman Josh Rojas, who leads the team in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

Rojas’ contributions have been amplified in recent weeks since he took over the leadoff spot against right-handed starters for injured shortstop J.P. Crawford, a role he’s excelled to the tune of an eye-popping .395/.465/.684 slash line. Crawford, who broke out for his best season at the plate while establishing himself as the leadoff hitter a season ago, is nearing a return from the right oblique strained that sidelined him April 24.

The Mariners will have a tough decision when Crawford returns. Should they reinsert their captain into the leadoff spot? Or should they ride with the hot hand in Rojas? Co-hosts Dave Wyman and Bob Stelton discussed the looming decision Wednesday on Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob.

“I love J.P. (and) think he’s crucial to this team, but I think you got a guy right now who is red hot,” Stelton said. “I would leave (Rojas) in that spot. I’d put J.P. ninth and just leave it there until Rojas cools way off and he becomes an impediment. … At this point he is far from that.”

The Mariners acquired Rojas, outfielder Dominic Canzone and second base prospect Ryan Bliss in a trade deadline deal that sent beloved closer Paul Sewald to the Arizona Diamondbacks last season. At the time, the trade was deemed as another sign Seattle wasn’t serious about making a push for a World Series. Now the 29-year-old Rojas, who Seattle insisted was part of the trade, is shifting the perception of that trade in the Mariners’ favor.

He started to show signs of turnaround after being traded to Seattle last season, which came after immense struggles at the plate in 2023 with Arizona. Rojas was hitting just .228 with a .589 OPS and zero home runs in 59 games when he was traded. He then batted .276 with a .721 OPS and four home runs in 46 games with Seattle. Through 28 games this year, Rojas is slashing .348/.420/.539 with four doubles, two triples, three home runs and eight RBIs.

“Game on the line you need a hit, you need somebody just to come up with a base hit. Who do you trust most in this lineup right now?” Stelton asked Wyman.

“Just because I’ve been watching Mariner baseball intently, and also the fact that the numbers are there, Josh Rojas,” Wyman replied.

Rojas has done a bit of everything for Seattle this season. He’s come up with big hits, showed some prowess with the glove and even been used twice as a pitcher. However, the team has remained steadfast in keeping Rojas in a left-righty platoon with Luis Urías, who’s hitting just .170 but has provided some pop with six of his eight hits going for extra bases. Rojas is 1 for 8 in limited opportunities against lefties this season, but he’s it a respectable .254/.333/.348 during his career against left-handers, compared to .260/.335/.388 against righties.

“He’s your hottest hitter,” Stelton said. “Put him in there until he proves he’s not hot anymore, and I don’t care if it’s a lefty or righty up there. I know they really limit his exposure to lefties, and I was looking at his career numbers and they’re not (bad). Now the number of at bats against righties (compared to) lefties (1,169 to 355) is decidedly different, but the numbers across the board are almost identical except for power.”

Wyman pointed to switch-hitting catcher Cal Raleigh as an example as why the M’s should give Rojas more run against left-handed starters. Raleigh entered the season known more for his ability – especially his power – hitting from the left side of the plate against right-handers, but Raleigh has excelled with more opportunities to hit right-handed this year and already has a career-high five home runs on left-handed pitching.

How has Mariners’ Raleigh become a threat from the right side?

“Where Rojas is at right now, I would keep him there, absolutely,” Wyman said. “And I think he needs to be out there more and just get, like Cal, more opportunities (against left-handers).”

More on the Seattle Mariners

• What could be the issue behind Julio Rodríguez’s slow start
• Injury Updates: Latest on J.P. Crawford, Bryan Woo, Dominic Canzone
• Smoltz: How M’s pitching staff can learn from Braves’ famous ‘Big Three’
• What Huard would rather Mariners do before a Pete Alonso trade
• How Seattle Mariners’ Cal Raleigh impresses former MLB catcher

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