JOE FANN

Fann: Red-hot Mariners’ pitchers — and man behind them — deserve their flowers

Jul 14, 2022, 11:46 AM
Mariners Pete Woodworth Marco Gonzales...
Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales and pitching coach Pete Woodworth look on during a July 1 game. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Depending on your level of Mariners fandom, you may know the name Pete Woodworth to varying degrees. He’s largely responsible for the recent dominance of the team’s pitching staff over the last two months.

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Since May 21, no team in baseball has a better ERA than the Mariners (3.03). That has been the result of comprehensive consistency throughout the starting rotation and a stable full of lights-out bullpen arms.

Woodworth has been a pitching coach in the organization since June 2016, starting with the Single-A Clinton Lumberjacks before moving to the Modesto Nuts in 2017. Two years later he climbed the ladder once more and joined the Double-A Arkansas Travelers. The Mariners promoted him to the big league club in 2019 upon Woodworth being awarded Texas League Coach of the Year. There’s a bit of symmetry in that career path given Seattle’s top pitching prospects often jump from Double-A straight to the big leagues.

This season has been Woodworth’s magnum opus. And it’s not just the success of Seattle’s arms top to bottom, it’s how many guys have made drastic improvements midseason. That speaks to coaching (in addition to a player’s individual development and willingness to make adjustments).

Let’s run through a few.

Diego Castillo

Castillo has been a polarizing name among Mariners fans because general manager Jerry Dipoto picked him as the team’s replacement for Kendall Graveman at last year’s trade deadline. After an up-and-down start to his tenure with Seattle last year, the once-shutdown closer was nearly un-pitchable (I don’t think that’s a real word but let’s roll with it) at the onset of this season.

Through his first 16 appearances, Castillo owned a dreadful 9.00 ERA with a .422 opponent batting average on balls in play. The turnaround began on May 23, and it has been immense. His last 19 appearances have resulted in an 0.89 ERA with a sterling .163 BABIP. His season-long ERA is all the way down to 4.05.

Castillo far too often resembled the “Fernando Rodney Experience,” but now he’s back to being one of the American League’s most reliable relievers. That was evident on Wednesday when he pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings against the Nationals that included a clutch two-out strikeout after inheriting a bases-loaded jam.

Andrés Muñoz

Muñoz got off to a curiously average start given he regularly tops 100 mph with his fastball. Even the biggest arms in baseball get humbled, though, if you can’t hit your spots and successfully throw a secondary pitch (or two) for a strike. Seattle’s firebreather sported an underwhelming 6.08 ERA and .433 BABIP through 15 appearances and 13 1/3 innings.

His last 19 outings have been stellar with just three earned runs over 21 2/3 IP (1.25 ERA) and 33 strikeouts. Muñoz has rounded out Seattle’s dominant trio along with Castillo and Paul Sewald. You don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but it’s impossible to ignore that Seattle’s bullpen is built for postseason success. If you can get to the seventh inning, those three guys match up favorably with any three arms around the league.

Robbie Ray

Every player deserves credit for their own individual success. That should go without saying, even in an article centered around giving the Mariners pitching coach his flowers. No arm is more worthy of kudos than Ray.

It’s not just that he’s regained his AL Cy Young form – he has a minuscule 0.91 ERA over his last six starts (39 2/3 innings) with 46 strikeouts after posting a 4.97 ERA over his first 12 starts. It’s how he’s done it. Ray’s utilization of a two-seam fastball with sinker-like movement (and the occasional changeup and curveball) have made his slider and four-seam fastball more lethal. He is once again a top-of-the rotation starter who should power Seattle’s second-half playoff push.

Other Mariners notables

• Reliever Paul Sewald has allowed just two earned runs over his last 12 appearances that include 18 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings.

• Chris Flexen hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in nine straight starts. He’s allowed two earned runs or less in six of those starts.

• Marco Gonzales has allowed more than three earned runs in just one of his last 13 starts. He’s made it through the sixth inning in 10 of those starts.

• Bullpen arms Erik Swanson (0.73 ERA) and Penn Murfee (2.80 ERA) have been wildly successful all season, adding quality depth to the Mariners bullpen. Dipoto and his personnel department deserve credit for finding the two hidden gems, but Woodworth and the Mariners coaches get recognition for developing their talent.

Two months of comprehensive success indicates the Mariners pitching staff should be able to remain one of the best in baseball.

A league-leading 82.7% left-on-base percentage since May 21 indicates that some regression is possible (if not likely). But the glass-half-full outlook is that the Mariners have guys who don’t get rattled by the pressure of having runners on base. That’s an invaluable trait in a playoff push.

And for as long as the Mariners arms continue to power the club, Woodworth will remain one of this season’s unsung heroes.

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Fann: Red-hot Mariners’ pitchers — and man behind them — deserve their flowers