Mariners' top prospects deliver walk-off

Rodríguez singles home Kelenic to end Cactus League opener

March 1st, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- It was only the first Cactus League game of 2021, but there is no dancing around the fact that it carried symbolic weight toward the Mariners’ future.

Julio Rodríguez and -- prized prospects not only of Seattle’s farm system, but all of baseball -- were the vessels behind the Mariners’ 5-4 win over the Padres on Sunday, with Rodríguez driving in Kelenic for the game-winning run with a walk-off, bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Even for a Spring Training game, it was the type of moment that gives Mariners fans more fodder to dream of the immediate and long-term future.

"That's something they are going to see for a long, long time,” Rodríguez said.

Beyond the final play, Rodríguez and Kelenic each put backing to the offensive maturation that the Mariners have raved about in camp. Rodríguez said that he had anticipated the first-pitch slider from Padres reliever Parker Markel based on offspeed-heavy sequences San Diego was throwing at him earlier in the game, which resulted in a strikeout. The pull- and power-heavy Rodríguez feasts on fastballs, but he knew he wouldn’t get one in the ninth.

“They know what kind of hitter I am,” Rodríguez said. “I was just expecting that first slider right there. I just took advantage of it and drove it to the middle for the ‘dub,’ which is good. I was already pretty confident because I knew the shape I came into camp. But getting that first hit and getting that first ‘dub’ was really cool to me.”

Kelenic, meanwhile, avoided any trigger-happy temptations to be the hero instead of Rodríguez when he got the first crack with two outs and a tie game in the ninth. Instead of chasing a poorly located pitch to clobber over the fence, the 21-year-old patiently watched four balls go by and took first base, setting the stage for Rodríguez, who batted after was hit by a pitch and walked.

Kelenic also saw a 3-0 count in the fourth inning and did not swing until after he took a called first strike. He then singled into right on the next pitch.

“Jarred does a great job in his swing decisions,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He always has. He understands the value of it. And when he's patient enough to wait for good pitches to hit, the damage he can do with his swing, it's pretty fun to watch. But it all starts with make good swing decisions, and he's done that throughout his whole career.”

Given that there is no Minor League camp to reassign players to until after the big leaguers depart for Seattle and Opening Day, Kelenic and Rodríguez will be here for all of Spring Training. And considering that the Mariners plan to build in more rest to their everyday players, it means the tandem -- and the rest of their prospects in camp – will receive more opportunities in Cactus League play than they might have in a “normal” year.

“Those kids are fun, they really are,” Servais said. “They come to the park every day, just trying to get better and learn from the group we have around them. And it's great getting them those experiences, even though it's the Spring Training, and there's 1,500 people there and it's late February, early in the spring, it's good experience.”

Marco shakes off rust
The Mariners quickly made use of the option to “roll over” an inning by doing so in the top of the first inning on Sunday after began pushing toward to his 40- to 45-pitch threshold early.

Seattle opted to move on after Gonzales gave up a leadoff double to Trent Grisham, worked full counts to Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado (who walked), surrendered a run on a force out and then allowed another runner to reach on an error by Kyle Seager. In the second inning, the club’s Opening Day starter faced only four batters, with a deep double to former batterymate Austin Nola as the lone baserunner.

“It was kind of weird,” Gonzales said of the rollover. “But it's necessary when you're trying to stick to the pitch count and this time [of year] is about building up arm strength and not going out there trying to throw you know a ton of pitches. [Servais] gave us a heads up that might happen at some point this spring. It's not a big deal.

“I felt good. I felt like I had a solid mix today. The curveball was probably the best that I've seen in camp so far, so I was I was really excited about that. You know, getting back out there, a little bit anxious.”