Mariners make statement vs. Astros behind Miller, Julio

May 8th, 2023

SEATTLE -- For all the Mariners’ ups and downs in what’s been a topsy-turvy young season, Sunday’s 3-1 win over the Astros brought them back to .500 (17-17) for the first time in three weeks, tied with Houston in the AL West standings.

Their offense is not where they’d like, they’ve lost clubhouse leader Robbie Ray to season-ending left elbow and flexor surgeries and probably have more questions than clarity heading into the early summer months.

But after a big series win against the team they’ve long chased in the division -- and in front of ticketed crowds exceeding 40,000 this weekend at T-Mobile Park -- it’s worth zooming in on the weekend and zooming out on where Seattle stands.

“We're still not playing our best baseball, and I feel like all those guys in the clubhouse know that,” said , who crushed his first homer in nearly two weeks. “And I feel like as the season keeps going by, we're going to start seeing what the Mariners are really capable of.”

Miller Time becoming must-watch
threw six shutout innings against the team he grew up watching and showed that he could be a stabilizing force in Seattle’s rotation after the season-ending injury to Ray.

Against one of the better fastball-hitting teams, Miller carved through Houston with a whopping 60 heaters among his 85 pitches on Sunday, accounting for each of his five strikeouts.

“I'll have the offspeed whenever I need it, but right now, it's just kind of prove that they can hit it before I stray away from it,” Miller said of his fastball. “And it was working.”

The Mariners’ No. 2 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 88 overall, Miller walked only one, Kyle Tucker in a full count to lead off the second inning. Including his historic 10-K outing on Tuesday in Oakland, Miller registered Seattle’s 19th start of at least six innings, which trails only Minnesota’s 20 for the MLB lead.

“That fastball definitely has something to it, and you can see it,” Rodríguez said. “Like, they were worried about his fastball and they were defensive about it. They couldn't catch up to it. And it's pretty impressive to see a guy coming up from the Minors and just start throwing fastballs by people like it's nothing.”

Julio heating up
Rodríguez, meanwhile, crushed a solo shot into The T-Mobile ‘Pen in the third that put the Mariners on the board. At a Statcast-projected 454 feet, it was the longest homer of his career.

Making it sweeter for the reigning AL Rookie of the Year was that it was his first home run since April 26, a drought that included a 4-for-30 stretch with just one extra-base hit. Rodríguez had four outs in this series with exit velocities over 100 mph before Sunday.

“It's been overdue kind of, too,” Rodríguez said. “So [there was] a buildup to it. And being able to hit that one for the team against a great team, too, it's always going to bring a lot of emotions out of me.”

Rodríguez, who’s slashing .216/.286/.410 (.696 OPS) in 32 games, has faced the challenges of pitchers attacking him far more diligently than before.

“I just keep grinding, because if I start crying and complaining about it, what am I going to do with that?” Rodríguez said. “What are you going to achieve with crying? I feel like I'm putting in the work, putting in the effort, showing up every day.”

They stayed with Houston all weekend
Adding some flavor to the day, the benches between these rivals cleared for the second time in 11 months, though like last June, there wasn't much pushing and no punches were thrown.

Martín Maldonado was bothered that Jose Caballero wasn’t called for not making eye contact with Brandon Bielak at the eight-second mark and instead granted time as Bielak delivered a pitch. Houston’s backstop and Caballero then exchanged words through the next pitch, a swinging strike, after which they got into each other’s faces.

“If you want to win the division, it has to go through Houston,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “But everything in our division has changed a little bit. Teams are different based on acquisitions and trades and young players coming up. We're different. But we can certainly play with these guys, but you've got to beat them. And that's what we were able to do in this series.”

Seattle’s seven runs with two outs in the eighth inning on Saturday highlighted resiliency, and had it not been for a mistake pitch from Luis Castillo and a tough call on Matt Brash that preceded a homer on Friday, maybe the Mariners sweep.

They won just three of seven series against Houston last year, including the ALDS, and have won just nine of their past 25 games against the Astros. But this weekend represented a strong first punch.