Whether it’s in the field, at the plate or on the bases, Julio Rodriguez knows one way to play baseball in games and practice — with maximum effort. The combination of that relentless attitude, tireless work ethic and a bundle of raw talent, strength and athleticism has made him into one of the top prospects in the Mariners’ organization and all of baseball.
Unfortunately, he will be sidelined indefinitely for that philosophy and playing style.
Mariners manager Scott Servais announced Thursday that Rodriguez suffered a hairline fracture in his left wrist while playing right field in a drill after Wednesday’s three-inning intrasquad game at T-Mobile Park.
“That was certainly the low-light of the day, no question,” Servais said in a video call. “We were doing a baserunning drill, just reading balls off the bat, and we put a defense out there for it. It’s a drill we’ve done many, many times. And with a shorter game, I thought it’d be good to incorporate that. A soft liner was hit into right field, Julio came in and instead of just pulling up and playing it on a hop, decided to dive for the ball and jammed his wrist into the ground.”
Following the awkward dive, Rodriguez got up in obvious pain and later exited the field with a trainer. He underwent X-rays, which confirmed the small fracture.
“He will have some more tests (Thursday), and we’ll find out more as the day goes on,” Servais said. “I feel horrible for Julio. You know he’s going all out and it’s what we expect of our guys, but it’s unfortunate that happened. He had great day yesterday leading into that.”
Indeed, Rodriguez smoked an RBI double to the deepest part of center field, burning center fielder Sam Haggerty in his second plate appearance in the game. It was Rodriguez’s first hard-hit ball in intrasquad play.
He had been delayed in getting to participate in Summer Camp, needing extra time to receive clearance for the intake COVID-19 testing protocols required by Major League Baseball. After working out a few days, he was inserted into games. His timing was off in the initial at-bats, but in two plate appearances Wednesday, it was clear he had started to find his swing.
This injury could keep him out at least a month, if not more, in a season that is only about two months. With the minor-league season canceled, the developmental aspect for young prospects in 2020 was already less than ideal. Rodriguez, who took over as the organization’s top prospect per Baseball America and rated as the No. 8 prospect in baseball, was going to spend what was left of this season at the alternative training site at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma. With fellow top outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic (No. 2) and close friend Noelvi Marte (No. 6 in the organization), Rodriguez would continue to work out and play in intrasquad games four times per week.
Now a suboptimal developmental season for Rodriguez and the Mariners could be a lost one. The organization could allow Rodriguez to make up for those lost at-bats by playing in the Dominican Winter League with Leones Del Escogido, who took him in the first round of the draft last season. But the Mariners have resisted that in the past.
With an ebullient and good-natured personality, Rodriguez became a favorite of teammates in his first MLB spring training this year. At age 19 and with a fair amount of outside hype surrounding him, older players marveled at his pure talent, mature approach to daily preparation, his desire to learn and improve while staying humble about his situation.
Being sidelined by an injury for a significant time after sitting out the past 3 1/2 months after MLB shutdown due to the spread of the novel coronavirus could wound Rodriguez’s spirit.
“I talked to him right after it happened in the training room,” Servais said. “I was just trying to, you know, get him to stay positive. He went through a similar issue last year. He just said to me, ‘You know, I’ll be OK,’ but at that point we didn’t know what the results were going to be of the X-ray or anything like that. But Julio has got such a great attitude. He’s one of the more upbeat, positive young players I’ve ever been around. He just doesn’t get down on himself. And we love that infectious smile that he brings every day, so I’ll talk to him when I see him when he gets in this morning.”
This is the second consecutive year in which Rodriguez has been sidelined with an injury to the left wrist/hand area. On April 12, 2019, Rodriguez was struck on the hand by a fastball. He suffered a hairline fracture of the third metacarpal and missed two months while recovering.
Hand and wrist injuries are never good for baseball players. Given the torque generated on swings, they must be properly healed before returning to action. There is a high risk for aggravation or lasting injuries if not treated properly.
Dee Gordon was a scratch before Wednesday’s intrasquad game in which he was scheduled to play left field. When asked about Gordon’s absence, Servais said he could not comment on the reason.
That, of course, leads to speculation that it is COVID-related. Teams are not allowed to comment on players dealing with any issue in that regard. It’s instructive to point out that several players around baseball have missed workouts because the results of the COVID-19 tests that they take every other day can be delayed in their return.
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