Consider this an official warning to the rest of the American League: Julio Rodriguez has woken up, and no baseballs are safe.
After a bit of a sophomore slump to start his 2023 season, last year’s AL Rookie of the Year has been on an absolute tear of late. The 22-year-old entered the Mariners’ series finale against the Royals with a .957 OPS, six homers and eight steals over his last 23 games, including a 4-for-6 explosion in a win on Wednesday night. But if you thought that was about as scorching as a hitter could get, think again, because somehow Rodriguez saved his best for last.
Julio was almost literally the Mariners’ entire offense on Thursday. First, he spotted Seattle a 2-1 lead thanks to an RBI single in the second and a go-ahead RBI double in the sixth. The Royals quickly erased that lead with three runs of their own in the bottom of the sixth, at which point Rodriguez decided to just go ahead and take matters into his own hands. He came up again with Seattle trailing, 4-2, in the top of the eighth, and promptly touched off a 97-mph fastball from K.C. righty Carlos Hernandez:
Julio Rodríguez, emphatically taking matters into his own hands. pic.twitter.com/ceoPcVMIHO— Daniel Kramer (@DKramer_) August 17, 2023
Rodriguez finished 5-for-5 with five RBI, while the Mariners tacked on another insurance run — the only one they scored all day that wasn’t driven in by Rodriguez — and get out of town with a 6-4 win. (For those keeping score at home, that’s a whopping nine hits for the center fielder in just the last 24 hours.) And as their superstar has heated up, so has Seattle: They entered the All-Star break a disappointing 45-44 but have been among baseball’s hottest teams since, going 10-4 in the month of August to pull into a tie in the loss column with the Blue Jays for the third and final AL Wild Card spot.
Offense has been the thing hamstringing Seattle all year; even despite season-ending injuries to Robbie Ray and Marco Gonzales, the Mariners boast a fearsome trio atop their rotation in Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby. The lineup, however, hadn’t been carrying its share of the load — but if this is the version of Rodriguez we’re going to get for the rest of the year, Seattle all of a sudden has to be considered a very real threat in the wide-open American League.