ARLINGTON, Texas – Bryan Woo took a couple of deep breaths, went into his simple delivery and fired his official pitch of Major League Baseball.
The 92-mph fastball was right down the middle of the plate about belt high.
But unlike games in the Double-A Texas League, the get-me-over first pitch wasn’t watched for a called strike.
Instead, Marcus Semien, the leadoff hitter of the best offense baseball, jumped on it, sending a double into the left-field corner.
Woo’s second pitch of his MLB career – a change-up that stayed up in the same area as the first pitch – was ripped into right-center for a run-scoring single by Corey Seager.
The Rangers’ rude welcome to the big leagues would only grow more inhospitable. They scored two more runs off Woo in the first inning and add three more in the second, ending his outing much earlier than anticipated.
The Mariners, who had even given Woo a one-run lead before he’d taken the mound, haven’t been hitting well enough to overcome such an early deficit. And the Rangers, being the Rangers, continued to score runs in what devolved into an embarrassing 16-6 rout with first baseman/designated hitter Mike Ford pitching the eighth inning for Seattle.
“Just a rough day all around,” manager Scott Servais said. “They jumped on him early. They are a very aggressive team on the fastball and they got on him.”
After giving up two hits on his first two pitches, Woo came back to strike out Nathaniel Lowe looking for a much-needed out.
But it didn’t get easier. He issued a four-pitch walk to Adolis Garcia, struck out Josh Jung swinging and couldn’t finish off switch-hitting catcher Jonah Heim.
Woo got up 0-2 on two pitches, but Heim hammered a couple of pitches into foul territory and took advantage of a 97-mph fastball in the center of the plate for a double that scored both runners for a 3-1 lead. Woo’s third out of the inning came on a swinging strikeout of Mitch Garver.
“The middle ball was in the middle of the plate,” Servais said. “He struggled to really get into any secondary-type pitches with his change-up and breaking ball. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw, you have to stay out of the middle in this league.
“I think it shows how good (M’s starter) Luis Castillo was (Friday) night (allowing one earned run in seven innings of a 2-0 loss). Because it’s a tough lineup to get through and hold them down.”
The young right-hander had little time to exhale and process what just happened in the dugout. His teammates went down in order against Rangers starter Andrew Heaney to force him back out there in what seemed like less than 5 minutes.
The second inning didn’t go much better than the first for Woo and the group of 18 people, including his parents and brother, that flew in for his first start.
He allowed a leadoff single to Ezquiel Duran on 1-0 fastball that stayed in the middle of the plate. Semien waited until the third pitch of his second at-bat vs. Woo to take advantage of a hittable fastball for a hard single to put runners on first and second with one out.
Seager showed no such patience. He ripped a first-pitch slider foul and then turned on the second pitch, also a slider but in the heart of the plate, for a double down the right-field line that scored both runs.
Lowe followed with a single to left to score Seager and make it 6-1.
Woo managed to end the inning with a pair of ground ball outs. But the damage was done, and so was hit outing.
“I just left too many pitches in the middle,” Woo said. “Obviously, I saw firsthand that I’m going to pay for those mistakes.”
Unlike his friend and former Double-A teammate Bryce Miller, Woo didn’t have the luxury of soft landing in his MLB debut by facing the hapless Oakland A’s. Instead, he had to face the team with the second-base record in baseball (37-20) and an offense that leads MLB in runs scored per game (6.2), runs (348), RBI (334) and batting average (.272), second in on-base percentage (.339) and weight runs created plus (118) and third in on-base plus slugging percentage (.787).
But with Marco Gonzales going on the 15-day injured list with a left forearm strain, the Mariners turned to Woo instead of veteran left Tommy Milone to make the start.
One of the organization’s top pitching prospects, Woo had been pitching well with Arkansas this season, posting a 2.05 ERA in 10 starts. While the distance between Little Rock and Arlington isn’t far, the distance between Double-A to the big leagues is massive. To be fair, Woo isn’t as polished as Miller in terms of professional experience or perhaps readiness, considering he pitched sparingly 2022 (57 innings) after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Woo has MLB stuff with a fastball that ranges between 95-98 mph with improving secondary pitches. But he simply left too many pitches in the middle third of the plate between mid-thigh and just below the letters on the jersey or the area baseball folks like to refer to as middle-middle.
“The slider wasn’t really there early,” he said. “I kind of got a feel for it towards the end of the second inning and was able to land a couple of them for strikes. But when can’t really establish a breaking ball early, it makes it pretty predictable.”
It’s an easily correctable issue moving forward for Woo if he’s given another chance.
For a fleeting moment, the Mariners seemed like they might fight their way back into the game. Heaney wasn’t sharp. Seattle scored a pair of runs off him in the fourth inning, forcing manager Bruce Bochy to go to his bullpen early. But a two-out baserunning mistake by Jose Caballero, who had reached on an RBI single, ended the possibility of getting more.
With Caballero on third, Julio Rodriguez attempted a steal of second base. Catcher Jonah Heim made an awkward throwing attempt to second trying to avoid the hitter Teoscar Hernandez, who had swung and missed and fell out over the plate.
Heim’s throw bounced in the turf and rolled toward shortstop Corey Seager. Seeing the misplay, Caballero broke for home. But the all had enough pace to roll to Seager, who picked it up and made a perfect throw home. Heim was able to tag Caballero just before he reached his hand around to touch home on a headfirst slide. The inning was over. The Mariners trailed 6-3. They would get no closer.
The Rangers picked up a run off Tayler Saucedo in the fourth inning and three more on a Leody Taveras three-run homer in the fifth. The game turned into a laugher in the seventh when the Rangers scored five runs off Chris Flexen, including a three-run homer fro Semien, who had four hits on the game and a two-run homer from Lowe.