Will J-Rod turn extended break into a blip?

July 27th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

To Derby or not to Derby? That’s the question that was asked with a heavy dose of hindsight, as the Mariners were without their best player after he competed in last week’s T-Mobile Home Run Derby.

Julio Rodríguez missed each of Seattle’s first four games out of the All-Star break. Perhaps the brief stretch will seem like a blip in the grand scheme of Seattle’s season. Yet the entire situation has been far more exacerbated for a variety of reasons:

• Rodríguez hurt his left wrist sliding into second base one day prior to the Derby but didn’t back out of the marquee event
• He said that he felt more pronounced soreness one day after the Derby and the electric performance he put on
• The Mariners were swept over the weekend by first-place Houston and clearly needed him
• Those losses were in front of huge crowds at T-Mobile Park eager to see Seattle continue its 14-game win streak out of the break

The talk of Twitter and sports radio since Friday has mostly questioned the rookie for doing the Derby despite jamming his wrist on a stolen-base attempt. Mariners manager Scott Servais, however, quashed the notion that there’s frustration from the club, while reiterating that the wrist injury at first didn’t appear severe.

“I know people around town question the story about sliding,” Servais said. “If any of you were in Texas ... you saw when he came off the field that he did have an issue when he slid into the base there. And I think [for] everybody who watched the rest of the game, he looked perfectly fine after that. So again, things happen. It's unfortunate that we've missed him a few days. But it is what it is. You can't go back. You've got to look forward.”

Rodríguez earned $750,000 by finishing runner-up, more than his $700,000 league-minimum salary for the entire regular season. Yet, beyond the money, it’s unquantifiable to put a price on the exposure from that single night and the coming-out-party it was for him on the global stage. Though he didn’t win, Rodríguez was easily the headlining performer of the night, hitting a whopping 81 homers and inspiring awe from superstars he grew up watching, such as Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.

Asked if he had any regrets about participating, even while still shelved, Rodríguez said: “Not at all. ... The Derby was a blast, man.” Even Servais recognizes Rodríguez’s logic.

“It's not for me to say whether it's a good idea or not,” Servais said. “Again, if I was 21 years old, would I want to participate in the Home Run Derby with millions of people watching me and being around the greatest players in the world? Yes, I would want to do it. He had a little setback coming out of it. We will deal with it.

“I am not mad at Julio. I love Julio. We all love Julio. I'm not disappointed. I'm not any of that stuff. He's 21. He plays hard. He plays every day. He does everything we ask him to do. We just had a little bump in the road, and we will survive it and he will be back and he'll be playing great before you know it. So, it's not for me to judge.”

Rodríguez plays with explosiveness and flair, which is precisely why he’s an attraction that the league wants to promote. Even though he hurt himself sliding headfirst, Servais doesn’t want to discourage him from playing that way -- or doing events like the Derby again.

“Let him play, man,” Servais said. “He's an awesome player. That's what we're about here, and you don't want to stifle any of that because you'll never get the best of him when you do that. So we've seen the best, a really good player in there. I still think there's more to come. We haven't seen the best of Julio yet.”