While last night’s Mariners game had very little to recommend it, there was one bright spot: when Justin Verlander took the mound in the ninth inning, aiming for a spirit-crushing complete game shutout, one Mariner stood in his way, and it probably wasn’t the one you were expecting:
It didn’t even make the MLB highlights package, but this was Rojas’s second hit of the game, as he recorded two of the three Mariners hits against Justin Verlander last night. Rojas’s first hit of the evening came in the bottom of the third, after Dominic Canzone broke up Verlander’s no-hitter with a sharply-struck (106.5 off the bat!) single; Rojas’s single, off a curveball, wasn’t quite as hard-hit but did the job nonetheless, squirting through the right side to put two runners on with just one out, setting up a bases-loaded opportunity that the Mariners would sadly eventually squander.
Rojas made an out in the sixth, but saw five pitches and did make contact off a changeup after fouling off a few off-speed pitches. That paid off in the ninth, when the Astros brought Verlander out to polish off the CGSO. Rojas was able to be patient through a couple of badly-missed fastballs by the tiring Verlander and shake off a poor strike one call from HP umpire Chris Guiccione, clearly already thinking about his postgame plans, to get ahead 2-1. He fouled off a slider, as Verlander, having already used his changeup and curve against Rojas and seen him make contact off both pitches, went to the slider from his bag of tricks. Verlander went to the slider again, trying to get Rojas to roll over on the pitch; instead, Rojas punched it into the right field corner for a double, eventually coming around to score the Mariners’ lone run of the night.
To be fair, this wasn’t Rojas’s success alone; in-between at-bats, he went back and watched how Verlander attacked two other lefty hitters in the lineup in J.P. Crawford and Cal Raleigh, noting how Verlander attacked first with his off-speed before getting Crawford on the slider and got Raleigh into unfavorable counts before putting him away with the fastball. Twice, Rojas was able to adjust against the future Hall of Famer, hunting a curveball over the plate in his first at-bat and getting ahead of Verlander in the ninth, forcing him onto the plate.
“I knew if he threw something that popped I could attack it, and first at-bat, he threw that curveball that popped up, I saw it and squeaked it through. The the second at-bat I switched to looking heater because he was going a lot of four[seamers] with two strikes against the lefties, so I switched to that, but then he pulled out two changeups. Then the third at-bat, he threw me spin over the plate and I was ready for it.”
Many Mariners fans scoffed when Jerry Dipoto claimed that Josh Rojas was the piece the Mariners were holding out for from the Diamondbacks in the Paul Sewald trade. At the time, the 29-year-old Rojas had a wRC+ of just 61 with a slash line that started with 2s across the board. Since coming to the Mariners, however, Rojas has been worth a full win, and his wRC+ has fluctuated between the mid-90s to a high point of 112. (It’s currently at an acceptable-but-not-scorching 95.) But what’s been most encouraging about Josh Rojas, Mariner, is he’s making much better contact than he was in Arizona, boosting his slugging all the way to .371 in a much less-friendly home park for offense. After scuffling mightily to start to season with Arizona, his numbers are starting to creep back up to where he was in 2021-2022, when he was a two- and three-win player, as he’s carried some adjustments he was working on in Arizona over to Seattle.
“To be honest, it was a struggle for a while, just trying to get the mechanics locked down. It was a constant battle of where I wanted my mechanics to be and what I wanted my approach to be, trying to blend the two when the game started and not let one interfere with the other. So I think coming here was a fresh start, a deep breath, some new eyes on my swing and some new thoughts about how we were going to attack pitchers, and luckily, it’s clicked so far.”
One thing he says he’s working on, along with some swing path cleanup, is on improving his approach to be more aggressive in the box, getting the ball out in front as opposed to reading and reacting to the pitch.
“Just not leaning back and read and react and try to, you know, be perfect. Let’s get going forward. Let’s get the hands moving and get the ball out front and trust the eyes.”
But the biggest thing Rojas can bring right now to this lineup that is scuffling to produce is his team-focused approach and patience at the plate.
“You’re taught your whole life in this game just to get to the next guy, however that is, whether it’s a walk or a hit. Just reach by however you can, especially in a five-run game, you know, a homer does nothing there. So just trying to get on base and start a rally.”