Can Julio Rodriguez Swing in To Save Seattle Mariners at the Start of Seattle Summer? |

Can Julio Rodriguez Swing in To Save Seattle Mariners at the Start of Seattle Summer? |

PHOTO USA Today Sports Images

The Seattle Mariners have never been to the World Series, but for decades they’ve led baseball for most creative TV commercials. 

There was Felix Hernandez taking the mound as his alter ego, Larry Bernandez, wearing glasses and mutton chops, in order to get a second turn in the rotation.

Or Hall of Fame designated hitter Edgar Martinez in a hardware store making a lamp out of a bat. “It’s a light bat,” The Edgar exclaimed.

This year, center fielder Julio Rodriguez is seen flailing about the clubhouse with a pink fly swatter, swinging aimlessly while hearing a persistent buzz. 

Suddenly, a hand appears from the corner of the screen, and the fly is caught between a thumb and index finger. The camera pans back to show franchise legend Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro crosses and taps his arms, like Rodriguez does in the field after making a catch, and says, “No fly zone, huh?”

At the end of the spot, Rodriguez sits at his locker with a handful of various-colored fly swatters that Ichiro grabs and chucks to the floor, showing J-Rod again his technique for catching a fly between his two fingers until the youngster is able to copy the move.

The commercial was intended to illustrate Rodriguez’s defense. 

Inadvertently, the spot foreshadowed struggles at the plate this season, lunging around the batter’s box as pitchers busted him high and tight with fastballs and then delivered a bevy of breaking pitches low and away. Flyswatter or trademarked Victus Julio wooden bat, the 2024 season is amounting to a swing and a miss for Rodriguez.

That the Mariners have spent the past two months in first place in the American League West, building a lead as large as 10 games, with their franchise cornerstone batting just .247/.296/.632 with eight homers and 30 RBIs is a testament to their pitching staff.

Until now. 

Cracks have begun to form. Rodriguez went 6 for 55 without an extra-base hit nor an RBI over a 13-game stretch in which the Mariners lost 10 times, their AL West lead cut to two games over the six-time defending division champion Houston Astros.

“We need everybody to pick it up and contribute offensively. It’s not just one guy,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais, whose team is batting an MLB-worst .216 and is on pace to threaten the record for most strikeouts in a season. “But Julio is the main guy.”

Rodriguez’s swing is starting to heat up just in time for the Seattle Mariners. Photo source: Getty Images

Rodriguez, a Silver Slugger Award winner in each of his first two seasons, has been working tirelessly in the batting cage with M’s hitting coach Jarret DeHart, Martinez and Osvaldo Diaz, his personal coach whom the team brought in recently from Tampa, Fla.

“We’re close,” Diaz told The Seattle Times. “The more eyes they can get on board, the better it is. I’ve been with Julio for four or five years already, before he was Rookie of the Year (in 2022). He trusts me a lot. I like what we’re building toward. I feel confident.”

Diaz said the coaching brain trust has been working with J-Rod on his timing and balance and to get his legs more involved in his swing.

“Everybody’s going to have ups and downs,” Diaz said. “It’s all about how you finish.”

Rodriguez has always been a slow starter, but the season is more than halfway over. 

The marine layer off Puget Sound has worn off. Mariners fans have started to wonder if major-league pitchers have figured out the darling of the past two editions of the Home Run Derby—including last year at T-Mobile Park — and this is all they can expect from No. 44.

While it’s relatively late, there’s still time for Rodriguez to swing to the rescue. 

They say summer in Seattle doesn’t begin until the Fourth of July.

In that case, there’s hope for the M’s and Rodriguez.

In a holiday matinee, Rodriguez hit a 428-foot homer off Orioles ace Corbin Burnes — on an 0-2 count, no less — and doubled to spark a tiebreaking five-run rally in the seventh inning in a 7-3 victory that snapped Seattle’s four-game skid.

“Sometimes you gotta go through tough stretches to wake the hell up,” said Rodriguez, who deflected questions about any changes he had made. “I was just out there competing. I wasn’t really thinking about my swing or what happened in the past two months. You can’t do anything to change the past. The only thing you can control is right now. Just going out there competing my ass off, kind of how I started playing this game.” 

Following his double, Rodriguez stole third and jumped to his feet, letting out a yell and clapping his hands as the pent-up frustration poured out.

“It was contagious,” said Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford, who broke a 2-2 tie moments later with a three-run double. “It got me going for sure. I think it got the whole team going. He fired everyone up.”

Added Servais: “We ask a lot of him. And I just want him to be him. He doesn’t have to carry the team. It’s OK to show emotion. It’s OK to get pissed off when you don’t have a good game and things like that. That’s normal. And hopefully today will lighten things up for him.”

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.