SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Rojas helping Julio an example of Mariners’ offense evolving

May 16, 2024, 9:54 AM

Seattle Mariners Josh Rojas Julio Rodríguez...

Josh Rojas and Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners score against Houston on Sept. 26, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

After the Seattle Mariners’ 6-2 series-opening win over the Royals on Monday night, Scott Servais had the look of a proud papa.

“This might be the hardest working team I have had since we got here,” the ninth-year Mariners manager said in his postgame meeting with the media. “I think they are leaning on each other, listening to each other. That’s how you get better in this game.”

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Servais was talking about something most can’t see: the actual work. It’s not just batting practice on the field three hours before the game. The preparation, both physical and mental, starts hours before that. Heck, it even happens in the “off” hours.

“There’s been hotel rooms, meet ’em in a room, break down some stuff, breakfast in the morning – it’s been all over the place, honestly,” hitting coach Jarret DeHart said when asked the oddest place he’s worked with a player on a swing. “Guys will come to the back of the plane pretty frequently and stop in, see what’s going on, and then, ‘Hey, can you look at this for me?’ It’s kind of all over the place. Wherever it needs to happen, it happens.”

There is, of course, always the early hitting – optional hitting that takes place on the field a couple of hours before batting practice. The group that turns out for early hitting can vary from day to day, but on the recent homestand, the group appeared to grow. Was it the sunshine at T-Mobile Park? Or perhaps a little bit of what Servais was talking about – players leaning on and listening to each other?

“I think some of the other guys are starting to realize it’s kind of fun to get out here and just kind of hit and talk and relax,” third baseman Josh Rojas said on a recent Mariners Radio Network pregame show. “Take a full hour to ourselves and just talk about what we’ve been feeling at the plate and, ‘Hey, what’s working for you? This might be working for me, it may work for you.’ So it’s just a good time to come out here and swing, relax and take it slow.”

With a largely new offense, these conversations have taken time to evolve. Servais credits Rojas with helping catapult the process.

“Josh Rojas, as well as he’s played, what he has added in our clubhouse, he’s really stepped up with J.P. (Crawford) being out,” Servais said. “The quality of at-bats and talking to teammates, getting on Julio (Rodríguez) in a good way.”

Rodríguez, who usually prefers to work in the cages, was present at early hitting last week, working on his timing and getting the ball in the air. After some rounds, he talked with DeHart. After others, he could be seen talking to Rojas, who acknowledged that yes, he had been getting on Julio in a good way.

“He’s a freak athlete and I have gotten the chance to watch him play from across the field, so now to share a locker room has been pretty cool to see his process and how he works,” Rojas said. “For me, it’s something I forgot and a lot of people forget is he’s still young, and I think that he’s had so much success in this league it feels like he has been around for a long time and has got it figured out. So I have been having conversations with him on ‘How can you get back to yourself? Let’s have a conversation about what makes you great, and then you just work at that.’ We’ve had some really good hitting conversations and I’m excited to see him take off and be the Julio that he usually is.”

Rojas looked to Julio to see if he could learn something about his process, something that perhaps could help him with his own game. While doing so, Rojas learned he perhaps could do something to help Julio.

As Servais said, players leaning on each other, listening to each other. With a largely new group of hitters, it makes sense that this piece of the puzzle has taken some time to evolve. But if two hitters that could not be more different are able to talk, support and take something from each other, perhaps the Mariners have something unquantifiable that will benefit them in the long run.

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