J-Rod returns to lineup in style with 4-hit night

July 10th, 2024

SAN DIEGO -- couldn’t help himself. He went full stop-and-stare.

In an emphatic return to the lineup, the Mariners’ uber-talented but oft-struggling center fielder blasted a 411-foot laser into the second deck in Tuesday’s 8-3 victory at Petco Park, watching the ball for nearly each of the 5.1 seconds it sailed before beginning his trot.

Rodríguez wound up going 4-for-4 and finishing a triple shy of the cycle, then left the game as the Mariners took the field in the bottom of the eighth due to calf tightness, which he said was related to sprinting for the first time in four days. But he downplayed any concerns.

And if he's at full strength and performing like this, the Mariners’ scuffling lineup could have a whole new dynamic. Because he’s playing with a whole new edge.

“I feel like you can get caught up sometimes -- just personally, me -- into what somebody else could think about, I don't know, whatever you might do in the field,” Rodríguez said. “And I feel like I stopped really worrying about that. And I feel like that's something that's huge for me, because sometimes I can get a little passionate out there.”

Rodríguez’s efforts, along with another gem from in his first start since being named an All-Star and a switch-hitting showcase from , who homered from both sides of the plate, lifted Seattle to a high note to begin its final road trip before the All-Star break.

Gregory Santos also had an electric season debut when locking down the ninth, which featured a testy back-and-forth with Jurickson Profar after each of his first two pitches, both sliders, landed up and in.

“I really love his personality,” Rodríguez said. “He's somebody that brings out fire every single time, and kind of like I was saying, he really doesn't care.”

Beyond his second four-hit night of the year, Rodríguez also scored on both homers from Raleigh, who went deep batting righty and lefty for the second time in his career. For the Mariners, it was the seventh time in franchise history a switch-hitter had achieved that feat. Rodríguez also drove in the game’s first run with a sharply hit single past Padres shortstop Ha-Seong Kim in the first.

“Julio getting going changes the entire lineup, changes the entire team,” Gilbert said.

Rodríguez left Saturday’s game with quad soreness that was pronounced enough to warrant an MRI, then was out of the starting lineup for Sunday’s loss -- but he wound up pinch-hitting in the eighth inning. The imaging showed “nothing out of the ordinary,” per manager Scott Servais, and the biggest concern was whether Rodríguez would be able to run at full strength. The calf tightness, albeit a new issue, doesn’t appear to be significant.

He joked that, had he remained in the game, he would’ve been sprinting for a triple on a cycle attempt had the moment manifested.

“Definitely,” Rodríguez said.

Tuesday was just his second game with at least two hits since June 15, the other being Thursday’s dramatic win over the Orioles, when he emptied his emotional tank by playing with a tense edge. The Mariners are cautiously optimistic that their most talented player could be turning a corner after a first half in which he notably lacked power.

His massive homer on Tuesday was on a slider that struggling Padres starter Adam Mazur hung over the heart of the plate. It was the type of pitch that most sluggers could feast on, yet for most of this year, Rodríguez has mostly fouled those off or failed to pull them in the air. That single pitch represented Rodríguez’s first extra-base hit since May 1 -- and his first homer of the year -- off anything other than a fastball. And two of his hits came in a two-strike count.

“We play to three strikes, so I feel like I always keep that in my mind whenever I'm competing out there,” Rodríguez said. “And that's what I did tonight. There has to be three strikes, and I'm not going to just kind of give that to you.”

As for Gilbert, he flirted with throwing a "Maddux" before surrendering a pair of late homers that ended his day with two outs in the eighth after just 87 pitches. He had seven strikeouts and one walk, along with two additional hits beyond the homers.

That set the stage for Santos, who fired the game’s fastest pitches and topped 100 mph five times. It was the type of outing that the Mariners had long envisioned after acquiring him from the White Sox in February.