Notes: Rodríguez impresses; Paxton healthy

March 18th, 2021

Among the more enjoyable activities for fans this time of year is the ability to not only watch the stars of their teams get ready for the baseball season, but to get a glimpse of what the future may look like, too.

For Mariners fans, this exercise can be doubly entertaining, considering their team appears to be finishing up a lengthy rebuild and is ready to make a push. That means top prospects not ticketed for Opening Day rosters are not likely to be out of view for long.

Julio Rodríguez is a perfect example. He’s still developing and fine-tuning his game. But he’s also not far away, penciled in as a future masher who will settle somewhere in the middle of the Mariners’ batting order.

One might consider Rodríguez’s 437-foot solo homer during the Mariners’ rout of the Royals Tuesday night a bit of a preview for what might be happening regularly at T-Mobile Park in the not-too-distant future.

In 12 Spring Training games, Rodríguez has seven hits in 22 at-bats and has drawn four walks. He’s also being lauded for his excellent speed, even with a 6-foot-3 frame.

“A lot of people don't think that, but it's actually true,” the affable Rodríguez said during an in-game interview on the Mariners television broadcast. “I'm a big guy, but I can run, too.”

Manager Scott Servais spoke at length about Rodríguez prior to their game with the Angels on Wednesday. Servais lauded the outfielder for the progress he made over the winter and for sticking to a strict regimen that resulted in a slimmed-down, stronger physique.

“All the credit goes to him, and our strength coaches, our training staff, in making sure that the messaging is getting across to him,” Servais said. “But ultimately it's up to the player. They've got to make the decisions on what they're going to do and how they're going to eat, how they're going to work out, how they're going to treat their offseason and Julio made a lot of really good decisions.”

After two months of instructional league in the fall, Rodríguez played for a spell in the Dominican Winter League. That experience was another learning tool for the outfielder, given the highly competitive nature and expectation to win.

“That's why it was so good, for people like me, that are just coming up,” Rodriguez said to the Mariners’ TV broadcasters. “They showed me how to actually compete for a championship. It was cool. Seeing everyone coming together to win a game, to perform for the team, it was a great experience for me. it was one of my best experiences in baseball so far.”

Servais noticed a new maturity in Rodriguez after that experience.

“I think the thing that was awesome was that Julio got some exposure being around those older players for the first time and just listening,” Servais said. “They talk about how the pitcher is going to attack them and then, ‘I'm going to look for this certain pitch in this spot,’ and watching them do it.

“It's changed his way of thinking, and that's how you need to think to be a competitor and a winner at the big league level. Big growth moment for him -- being around those older players has really changed his outlook on the game.”

White’s slam
’s first homer of the spring was a doozy, and seemingly reinforced Servais’ observation the first baseman has been more “in attack mode” of late.

White, at DH for the Mariners in their 7-4 loss to the Angels on Wednesday, launched a grand slam off an erratic Thomas Pannone in the sixth inning, raising his RBI total to 11 for the spring.

“Evan’s got big-time power, it’s just the consistency of getting to his pitch and getting it in play,” Servais said. “He had some good swings tonight. You’re starting to see the timing and confidence coming together here.”

Servais added that White will be off on Thursday after playing four games in a row.

Paxton prepares on backfields
Veteran left-hander has been pitching regularly and is on schedule to start the regular season, but he’s doing so away from the spotlight, on the backfields at the Peoria Stadium complex.

Paxton has pitched mostly in “B” games, in addition to completing his morning workouts. During an interview with Christopher Russo on MLB Network, general manager Jerry Dipoto said he anticipates Paxton will start one of the first three games of the regular season.

"We've been doing morning work with James; no injuries, no issues at all,” Dipoto said. “The fact that you haven't seen him in an 'A' game has nothing to do with his physical health. He's looked great since the day he got in. Physically, he's in better shape than I think I've ever seen him. He's pretty focused.”

Dipoto added that Paxton is hitting 95 to 96 mph with his fastball and is stretched out to three and four-inning increments. Dipoto expects Paxton to pitch again Saturday or Sunday.

Roster moves
The Mariners made three roster moves on Wednesday, reassigning right-hander Moises Gomez and lefty Ian McKinney to Minor League camp, while optioning right-hander Juan Then to Class A Everett.

The moves left the Mariners with 60 players in their Major League camp: 36 roster players, 23 non-rosters and one player on the 60-day injured list.

Up next
The string of night games continues for the Mariners, who will play the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium Thursday at 7:05 p.m. PT. Right-hander Justin Dunn will take the hill for Seattle. The Giants will counter with righty Anthony DeSclafani. Watch the game on MLB.TV or listen live.