J-Rod dropped in order as he tries to find his timing

Star slugger remains stuck on two home runs after Mariners' shutout loss to Yankees

May 23rd, 2024

NEW YORK -- Mariners manager Scott Servais said earlier this week that his lineup could change “on a nightly basis,” though his commentary was mostly related to platoons and opposing pitcher matchups. One constant just about all year has been in the No. 2 hole.

But ahead of Thursday’s 5-0 loss to the Yankees, Rodríguez dropped to sixth, his lowest starting spot in the order this year, in an effort to both get his bat going and lean on Seattle’s other hot hitters up top. Rodríguez then went 0-for-4 in the finale at Yankee Stadium to finish the four-game series 1-for-16.

“Sometimes it can be a little bit frustrating or whatever,” Rodríguez said, “but what are you going to do about it? ... If the results are not there, I'm not going to get scared. I keep working at it, trying to get better and trying to keep helping the team win.”

  • Rodríguez’s first at-bat yielded a backwards K on an off-plate changeup that either barely clipped the black or was outside. Either way, it was a tough break.
  • In his second at-bat, Rodríguez pulled a ball in the air, but it was an outside slider and not hit hard enough, leading to an easy flyout.
  • In Rodríguez’s third, he hit a first-pitch groundout to third base.
  • And in his fourth, Rodríguez struck out on a nasty 97.4 mph sinker from closer Clay Holmes.

Rodríguez has had a few bright spots, but a lack of power has persisted with the Mariners’ most talented player.

Rodríguez still sits with just two homers on the season through 51 games, a span of 216 plate appearances. Since clubbing his second of the season on May 12 vs. Oakland, Rodríguez has found ways on base -- but via 11 singles and one walk, as his batting average and slugging percentage have been identical (.268) since he last went yard.

“When you're putting lineups together, you want to get your guys that are going best near the top of the lineup,” Servais said. “Julio is usually one of our guys that is going really well. [Hitting lower in the order] maybe takes a little pressure off. He's still a key, key player for us. It may be a few days. We'll just wait and see how it goes.”

Rodríguez’s issues haven’t changed, as they’re mostly related to timing and rhythm into the hitting position.

“When you separate your head, it also allows you to make better swing decisions when you're earlier,” Servais said. “When you're late, everything looks like a strike, everything looks like a fastball. And then what do you do? Your mind says quickly, 'I've got to get the barrel there.' So you're late. You catch the ball deep. Your decisions aren't as good.”

Per Statcast, Rodríguez ranks in the 88th percentile in hard-hit rate, 92nd in average exit velocity and 96th in average bat speed, a new metric introduced last week. But it’s the dynamic that Servais describes that has led to most of Rodríguez’s optimal contact being chopped into the ground or fouled. His 43.5% ground-ball rate is actually lower than each of his previous two years, but it has spiked in spurts.

As Statcast shows, Rodríguez's ground-ball rate has had significant ebbs and flows this season.

“It's a feel thing,” Servais said. “And we've seen it come with Julio, he just hasn't been able to maintain it. You see it in a game or an at-bat or two. And then it'll be like, 'Oh, he had a couple of really good games,' and now you're starting to see the ball get in the air off the bat to the pull side with really some authority behind it. And then it kind of goes away again.”

With Rodríguez moving down, Dylan Moore was the obvious choice to move to No. 2. He’s tied for the team lead with five homers this month and has a 1.619 OPS on this road trip, which continues with a three-gamer starting Friday at Nationals Park.

Yet Moore, Rodríguez and the rest of the Mariners had virtually no answers for Yankees starter Luis Gil, whose lone hit surrendered over 6 1/3 scoreless innings was an infield single that J.P. Crawford legged out. After that, Seattle went quietly against New York’s bullpen and split the series, with just three hits on the day to tie a season low.

The Mariners also fell to 5-13 in games in which Rodríguez goes hitless -- underscoring that, despite remaining in first place in the American League West, they could reach an even higher ascent if their best player can find more consistency.