Major League Baseball is investigating after Houston Astros pitcher Hector Neris allegedly used a homophobic slur to taunt the Seattle Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez on Wednesday night, multiple MLB sources told The Seattle Times.
Mariners third baseman Eugenio Suarez, in the on-deck circle at T-Mobile Park when the incident occurred, told The Times he heard Neris use the slur during an unusual sequence. Neris struck out Rodriguez, then demonstrably walked toward Rodriguez near home plate and shouted at him in Spanish.
Both benches cleared in the latest chapter of the budding rivalry between the Mariners and Astros.
The 22-year-old Rodriguez, speaking publicly about the incident for the first time Thursday afternoon, said he did not want to disclose the nature of Neris’ comments.
Privately, multiple sources close to Rodriguez said the Mariners’ star center fielder confirmed Suarez’s account.
Rodriguez and Neris were teammates on the Dominican Republic team during the World Baseball Classic this spring, and Rodriguez said he had previously considered Neris, 34, a friend.
“I just feel I deserve a little bit more respect than that,” Rodriguez said.
The Astros public relations staff released a statement attributed to Neris on Thursday in which the pitcher apologized for his actions but denied that he used a homophobic slur.
“I want to apologize to Julio, his family, and the Mariners organization. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Julio as a person and a player. He means so much to baseball and the communities in the United States and back home in the Dominican Republic. He is a great player and a better person and deserves to be recognized that way,” the statement read.
It concluded: “Last, there were reports that I used a homophobic slur, which are simply incorrect. That did not happen and any suggestion to the contrary is wrong. My mother raised me to love and respect people for who they are and that is how I live my life.”
Rodriguez said Neris had reached out to him directly, but Rodriguez does not plan to respond.
More than anything, Rodriguez said he was confused by the entire episode.
“I get the part where you can celebrate and be excited and all that,” Rodriguez said. “But just to like come down and get in my face like that, that’s something I’m not going to take. Not just from him — somebody that I thought was my friend. Not just from him but from anybody.”
One lesson Rodriguez said he’s learned from the incident: There are no friends once you step on the field.
“It’s hard to learn it that way,” he said, “but sooner rather than later I was going to learn something like that. I’m glad it happened now and I can keep moving forward.”
Rodriguez, in one of the worst games of his young career, finished 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in the Mariners’ 8-3 loss to the Astros on Wednesday, which gave Houston a 1.5-game lead over Seattle for the third and final wild-card spot.
Their playoff hopes dwindling, the Mariners close out the regular season with four games against the Rangers, beginning Thursday night.
Rodriguez, one of the first players to arrive at the ballpark, took early batting practice on the field Thursday afternoon.
“Especially when you really have something at stake, when you really have a goal as a team, you always want to contribute,” he said. “And I feel like that’s something that I didn’t do [Wednesday]. I’m looking forward to getting back on the field and show up and try to do my thing.”