SEATTLE – A large portion of the near-sell-out crowd, ready to enjoy some afternoon baseball in the sun, had barely reached their seats at T-Mobile Park when Seattle Mariners ace Luis Castillo fired the first pitch of Saturday’s game vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The 96-mph sinker started toward the middle of the plate and started to run away from Tucupita Marcano, the Pirates’ left-handed-hitting leadoff batter.
Looking to be aggressive, Marcano sent a line drive into the left-center gap for a double.
On the mound, Castillo watched as Marcano, standing on second base, gestured toward his teammates about the extra-base hit.
Marcano never left second base in the inning and neither he nor his teammates would get another hit against Castillo over the next five innings or threaten to score the rest of the day.
“Sometimes they punch you first and it wakes you up,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Then you punch a little bit harder right back at them.”
Pittsburgh had no answers for Castillo’s counterpunch, which was six innings of domination.
The bullpen followed that up with shutdown relief work from Gabe Speier, Matt Brash, Trevor Gott and Justin Topa while the offense provided plenty of run support for a 5-0 shutout victory over the Pirates.
“Nice ball game,” Servais said. “It kind of checked all the boxes today: Great crowd, great weather, home team wins, shutout, day game … it was fun.”
It was the fifth time this season the Mariners have held an opponent scoreless .
They improved to 27-25 and will go for a series win on Sunday with Marco Gonzales getting the start. Pittsburgh will go with right-hander Luis Ortiz.
Castillo pitched six scoreless innings, allowing just the one hit while walking one and tying a career high with 10 strikeouts to improve to 4-2 on the season and lower his ERA 2.69. Of his 99 pitches, 64 were strikes, including 24 swings and misses. Against one of the better fastball-hitting teams in MLB, he got 12 whiffs on his fastball.
After a three-game stretch in which he gave up 12 runs on 19 hits – all Mariners losses – Castillo has been outstanding in his past two starts after making slight tweak to his delivery to get more consistent command with his four-seam fastball and sinker. He’s thrown 12 scoreless innings, allowing five hits with three walks and 18 strikeouts.
“Luis Castillo is getting back on a roll,” Servais said. “It was awesome today after that first hit of the game, he got after it, just super aggressive.
“I can’t say enough about what he means to our pitching staff and what he’s done since he’s been here. I know there’s been a few rocky starts here recently, but he takes the mound and is super competitive. I love having him out there.”
Castillo had an answer to Marcano’s aggressive swing on his first pitch.
“Right away, I saw they came out aggressive,” he said through interpreter Freddy Llanos. “In my mind, I said, ‘OK, I’ve just got to throw a variety of different pitches.’ And that’s what I did throughout the whole game. I threw a variety of pitches, and it seemed to work, and I’m sure that threw off the plan of them coming out aggressive.”
After Marcano’s double, Castillo fell behind 3-0 to Bryan Reynolds. Irritated with the situation, he came back with two called strikes before getting a lineout to left. Castillo struck out Connor Joe on a nasty slider and then blew a 98 mph fastball past former teammate Carlos Santana for a swinging strike three. Santana gave Castillo a second look, as if in disbelief at the nastiness of the pitch.
“Santana for me is like a brother,” Castillo said. “I talk to him maybe three four times a week. Being able to face him today, it was a little special. Every pitch that I threw him, I kind of smiled whenever I did. It was great facing him.”
It would be the only inning where Castillo didn’t pitch with a lead.
His teammates delivered a harsh return welcome to Pirates starter Vince Velasquez, who was making his first start since May 4 due to elbow irritation.
J.P. Crawford led off with a double to right field and scored on Ty France’s double to left. With two outs, Eugenio Suarez’s excuse-me check swing led to bloop single that scored France from second. Following Cal Raleigh’s single up the middle, Teoscar Hernandez made it 3-0 with a double into the left-field corner.
“We were on him early,” Servais said. “Certainly we’ve seen him in the past. Our guys were on it. The timing was good. They were ready to go, knowing that he was gonna throw a lot of breaking pitches. When he left one up in the zone, we were ready to attack it.”
The Mariners picked up another run in the second. Crawford reached on a one-out single and France worked a walk to bring Julio Rodriguez to the plate. He hammered a fastball into center for a RBI double to make it 4-0. The Mariners failed to add more with runners on second and third. Jarred Kelenic and Suarez each struck out.
Rodriguez helped manufacture a big run in the seventh inning. He led off with a hard single through the left side, stole second and advanced to third on throwing error by catcher Jason Delay.
He would later score on Suarez’s pop fly to shallow center. Rodriguez tested the arm of centerfielder Jack Suwinski, who delivered a perfect throw. Home plate umpire Ryan Blakney initially called Rodriguez out at the plate. The Mariners challenged the call and replays showed that his foot had touched home before Delay put the tag on his midsection.
“A huge stolen base,” Servais said. “You’re up 4-0 and everyone says, ‘ah, we got this under control.’ That’s a big run in the game. He gets to third and then the sac fly. He absolutely did right thing when sliding in. So many times you see guys slide in and they try to avoid the tag and stick their hand in there. And in that situation, they’re out the majority of time. You slide right through the catcher, right at the base.”