Mariners Takeaways: Woo looks good, Muñoz shouldering load, and more

May 15, 2024, 9:19 PM | Updated: May 17, 2024, 4:30 pm

Seattle Mariners Bryan Woo Royals 2024...

Bryan Woo of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Royals on May 15. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners just keep racking up series wins.

After taking the rubber match of a three-game set against the much-improved Royals on Wednesday, Seattle has won eight of its past nine series. The Mariners are 18-10 over that stretch and have improved to 24-20 overall, while building a two-game lead over Texas atop the AL West.

Here are three observations about the first-place M’s following their latest series win.

Woo looks healthy… and highly effective

Bryan Woo appeared to quell any lingering concerns about his health with an impressive performance in Wednesday’s 4-2 win over the Royals. The 23-year-old right-hander pitched 5 1/3 crisp innings, allowing just one run, three hits and one walk in an efficient 79-pitch outing.

It was a highly encouraging showing after he began the season on the injured list with elbow inflammation and then had his season debut cut short by forearm tightness last Friday. Woo attributed that tightness to a long time gap between his fourth and fifth innings, due to Seattle scoring five runs in the bottom of the fourth. He was removed as a precautionary measure two pitches into the fifth, after cruising through the first four frames.

Mariners manager Scott Servais said Woo recovered well between starts, and he certainly looked healthy and effective in his return to the mound on Wednesday. Under a limited pitch count, Woo cruised through the first five innings while retiring 15 of the first 16 batters he faced. Similar to last Friday, he had to deal with another long gap between innings. This time it was due to a lengthy umpire delay in the bottom of the fifth, after the home-plate ump took a foul ball off his facemask and had to leave the game. Woo ran into a bit of trouble the next inning and was removed, but it did little to dampen an otherwise stellar start.

Through his first two outings, Woo has retired 29 of the 35 batters he’s faced. He has allowed just one run and four hits in 9 2/3 innings, while totaling eight strikeouts and just two walks. He also became just the eighth pitcher in Mariners history with 100-plus strikeouts through his first 20 career starts, joining fellow rotation mates George Kirby, Logan Gilbert and Bryce Miller in that exclusive club on Wednesday. After breaking into the majors last June, Woo continues to thrive with a hard four-seam fastball that baffles hitters from his unique arm slot.

“It’s a unique fastball,” Servais said. “The slot that he throws at and how the ball moves and what it does, it’s so unique. Hitters, they get so used to training their eyes to where the ball is supposed to be. And his ball is not there, because it’s so different than what everybody else in the league does.”

Woo took over the No. 5 spot in Seattle’s rotation last season and was slated to be the team’s fifth starter again this year before landing on the injured list. His return puts the Mariners’ rotation back at full strength. And given how dominant their top four starters have been, adding yet another talented arm to the group is a scary sight for opposing teams.

With bullpen shorthanded, Muñoz has taken control

When the Mariners traded for hard-throwing reliever Gregory Santos in February, it created the potential for a three-headed monster in Seattle’s bullpen between Santos, Matt Brash and Andrés Muñoz. However, neither Brash nor Santos have thrown a single pitch this season. Brash had Tommy John surgery last week and is out for the year, while Santos is likely out with arm issues until at least July.

In their absence, Muñoz has done all he can to fill the void. After a bit of a shaky start to the season, the hard-throwing 25-year-old closer has been lights-out. Muñoz has tossed 11 consecutive scoreless innings over his past eight appearances, racking up 10 strikeouts and only one walk during that stretch.

As Mariners’ Luke Raley heats up, he’s becoming a coach favorite

In addition, Muñoz has been logging some multi-inning work. On Wednesday, with the Mariners clinging to a 4-2 lead in the eighth and Kansas City threatening with runners on second and third, Servais went to his closer early. Muñoz rose to the occasion yet again, working around traffic in both the eighth and ninth for his second five-out save of the season. And as Servais pointed out afterward, Muñoz essentially had to get six outs, as the Mariners committed a throwing error in the ninth that put a runner aboard. Muñoz currently leads the majors with four saves of four-plus outs.

“That was not the plan to go five outs today, but the game’s on the line there in my opinion in the eighth inning,” Servais said. “You shoot your best guy and see where it takes. … We don’t win the game unless Muney takes the ball at the end and does what he does. It really wasn’t a five-out, it was almost a six-out save, because we threw a ball away there in the ninth that could’ve gone a little crazy. But he didn’t waver, and that’s what it takes. If you are an elite guy in the back end of a bullpen on a really good team, that’s what you do. And he took the ball today and got it done, so credit to him.”

Reinforcements coming to the lineup

The Mariners’ lineup is getting closer to full health. On Wednesday, outfielder Dominic Canzone returned to the starting lineup after missing a month with an AC joint sprain that occurred when he crashed into the wall for a highlight-reel catch in mid-April. And on Tuesday, leadoff-hitting shortstop J.P. Crawford began a rehab assignment as he works back from an oblique strain that’s sidelined him since April 24. Servais said if all goes well, Crawford will rejoin the Mariners for their upcoming series in Baltimore, which begins Friday.

In Crawford’s absence over the past few weeks, Josh Rojas has taken over the leadoff spot against right-handed pitchers and Dylan Moore has started hitting leadoff against lefties. Moore also has been the primary shortstop with Crawford out. Both players have excelled in their roles – especially Rojas, who has been Seattle’s best overall hitter this season.

But even so, Canzone’s return and Crawford’s impending return are a welcomed relief for Servais and the Mariners. It should give them more versatility to mix and match against opposing pitchers. It should allow Moore to return to his regular role as a utilityman. And it should give right fielder Mitch Haniger some more days off and time at designated hitter.

“It just gives you more options,” Servais said. “You can give guys some days off. We have not been able to do a lot of that, as we’ve seen Dylan Moore play a ton at shortstop and Mitch Haniger has played a ton in right field. I think it is important (to give days off). That’s kind of how the team was built, so we’d have a little opportunity to give guys a blow and keep them fresh.

“I do think a fresh Mitch Haniger, or D-Mo (even with) what he’s doing now, we’ll probably end up getting more production out of them because they are fresh, even though they might not have as many at-bats in a given week. So that’s the goal. That’s how the team was put together, and hopefully we get back to getting really close to what we broke to camp with here once we get on this road trip.”

More on the Seattle Mariners

• M’s activate Dominic Canzone from IL ahead of series finale vs. KC
• As Mariners’ Luke Raley heats up, he’s becoming a coach favorite
• Salk: The clear trade route for Mariners to capitalize on this year
• M’s may have prospects for trades to take advantage of ‘wide open’ AL
• How should Seattle Mariners’ lineup look when J.P. Crawford returns?

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