ST. PETERSBURG — It was only a matter of time before Scott Servais went to bat for Julio Rodríguez after the Mariners’ manager returned to the dugout on Tuesday.
“What’s going on with Julio Rodríguez right now is not right,” Servais said, later sharing that the team has sent a letter to Major League Baseball about the situation.
Here’s a recap of what happened and why it represented a breaking point:
It wasn’t just strike three
It was the third strike from Rays reliever Jalen Beeks that drew the most ire from Servais and led to his 16th career ejection. But it was after the second that Servais began barking. Rodríguez tried to check his swing, and Tampa Bay catcher René Pinto appealed to first-base umpire Tom Hallion, who gestured that Rodríguez held.
But as Pinto was pointing, home-plate umpire Shane Livensparger was calling strike two — on a pitch that appeared to be above the strike zone — without checking with Hallion, who mouthed “my bad” to Livensparger for his premature gesture. That made the count 2-2.
Beeks’ next pitch was called a ball. Then strike three was called on a changeup outside the zone, per Statcast, giving Rodríguez an MLB-high 17 called strikeouts, 10 on pitches outside the zone. No other player has been rung up for more than five such calls.
Servais was confused when the 2-2 pitch wasn’t called ball four, so he jogged over to Livensparger.
“At that point, I run out there [and say], ‘What is going on here?’” Servais said. “He says, ‘No, I never asked for [Hallion’s] opinion or for his help at first base.’ I said, ‘He’s calling it safe. Obviously you got it wrong.’ He goes, ‘No, I called it on the pitch.’ And then I said, ‘That’s just absolutely ridiculous.’”
Servais retreated to the dugout in frustration. He was quickly back out after Rodríguez struck out.
“Then I had some more things to say there,” said Servais, who after arguing with Livensperger told Hallion, the crew chief, of the treatment he feels Rodríguez has been receiving.
“I sat home for a week and watched it, out with COVID. Very frustrating,” Servais said. “I give all the credit in the world to Julio. Not many people could handle things the way he has. He’s not barked back. He’s not changed his approach. He’s not chasing balls out of the strike zone. But it’s wrong.”
Rodríguez was also lost in the check-swing confusion.
“I thought it was a ball,” Rodríguez said. “I thought they called it to check it. And whenever [Hallion] said, ‘Safe,’ and then it was a strike, I was like, ‘Hold on. That was a bad pitch.’ Like, that was a terrible pitch. It was up in the zone. It was clearly a ball. Honestly, I was confused, but when I saw a Scott coming in, I was like, ‘OK. He’s hot.’ I didn’t even know what to say in that moment.”
Rodríguez — who walked back to the dugout without comment, as he has all season — appreciated Servais’ support.
“I feel really good that he’s got my back,” Rodríguez said. “They’ve been doing that for a minute now, and it just felt really good that he’s got my back.”
But Rodríguez is still confused about why he continues to get called out on out-of-zone pitches.
“I honestly don’t know,” Rodríguez said. “I don’t think I’ve been doing anything wrong. I feel like I’ve been playing the game respectfully, talking to everybody, [being] nice. So I don’t know. I don’t know if they’ve got something against me or anything.”
Livensparger is a Minor League umpire who was called up in place of Mark Ripperger, who is normally with the crew of Hallion, Phil Cuzzi and Cory Blaser that oversaw this three-game series. Yet in the Mariners’ eyes, it’s a larger issue. It’s unclear what, if anything, will come of their letter to MLB.
“He’s 21 years old — let the kid play,” Servais said. “It wasn’t right today.”
“Whatever happens, happens,” Rodríguez said. “But I’m going to keep being the same guy and keep staying with my approach.”