Julio's much-needed HR a sign hard work finally paying off

May 26th, 2024

WASHINGTON -- showed his calloused hands in the clubhouse as proof of the extra work he did prior to the Mariners' 3-1 loss against the Nats on Saturday. The work manifested as a game-tying solo homer in the fifth inning.

He could not contain his smile as he rounded the bases at Nationals Park. The smile grew even more as he hoisted the Mariners’ home run trident with pride when he descended into the dugout to celebrate with his teammates.

He remained disciplined during his fruitful second plate appearance, which -- according to manager Scott Servais -- was a key to Saturday’s game.

“I think last night, Julio’s first three at-bats were better, on time, but last night he got anxious and rolled over a breaking ball,” Servais said.

Not faltering on a 1-2 count, Rodríguez’s bat got all of Nationals starter Trevor Williams’ 85.2 mph sinker. The ball traveled 433 feet at 106.9 mph to tie the game, 1-1.

It was his third dinger of the season, and ended an 0-for-17 slump. He has been putting emphasis on his approach during his workouts, making sure his timing is where he needs it to be.

“We’ve been swinging quite a bit and trying to adjust and trying to continue to improve every single day,” he said. “Just being more on the fastball and being more on time in general. I feel like it’s paying off little by little.”

Last season, Rodríguez had recorded 10 homers after April and May, hitting 32 over the course of the year. Servais said he was not concerned about the star outfielder, despite moving Rodríguez to the No. 6 spot in the lineup from No. 2.

“He’s been off to slow starts before, he knows where he’s at,” Servais said.

During his rookie 2022 season, Rodríguez didn’t hit any homers over the month of April. He went on to hit six in May that season, and recorded 28 total dingers. Rodríguez put his power potential on display during the final few months of the 2023 season, hitting seven home runs in August and eight in September.

“It was nice to see him square up a ball and drive a ball, hadn’t seen that in a while, so hopefully that gets him going,” Servais said.

The power display against the Nationals indicated that Rodríguez’s bat is still just as threatening, even if he’s slumping. His average exit velocity is 92.2 mph with a hard-hit rate of 49.3% so far this season and is close to reaching his 52.0% hard-hit rate from 2023.

Rodríguez’s homer was the only run support behind Seattle starter Logan Gilbert, who kept the Nationals to one run off three hits in six frames. Gilbert recorded his ninth quality start of the season.

Servais hopes that Rodríguez’s performance is a sign he could provide a boost for an offense that continues to struggle. For Rodríguez, it’s a sign to keep working to lift the trident more in the future.

“When you get little tastes like that, it keeps you more hungry to keep working hard,” the 23-year-old outfielder said. “Every time I can drive the ball somewhere, it feels really good.”