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Seattle Mariners

Mariners get more solid pitching to secure series win over Royals

By Adam Jude Seattle Times

SEATTLE – He’d already thrown a season-high 33 pitches, secured the second five-out save of his career, and then conducted an on-field television interview.

Still one last bit of work awaited Andres Muñoz.

Handed the golden trident, Muñoz hoisted the celebratory piece in the air with his right arm, drawing a roar from the remaining crowd gathered behind the T-Mobile Park home dugout and punctuating a gutsy performance from the Seattle Mariners’ patchwork bullpen in a 4-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

Muñoz stranded the tying runners on base to end the eighth and ninth innings, striking out Freddy Fermin with a 99-mph fastball to end the game, sending the Mariners (24-20) to a series victory and closing out a 4-2 homestand.

“I’m just really confident,” said Muñoz, standing in front of his locker with his right arm wrapped in two large ice packs. “I just try to go there and do my best every time, every pitch (with) 100% effort, and it’s working.”

Gabe Speier came out of the bullpen and worked out of a sixth-inning jam to back a dazzling performance from 24-year-old starter Bryan Woo, and Josh Rojas and Luke Raley each added key run-scoring singles in the final two innings to give the Mariners some much-needed breathing room.

Ty France hit a 414-foot homer off Royals starter Alec Marsh in the fourth inning, his second of the series and fourth of the season.

“Really good ballgame. Obviously, great weather and a really good homestand for us,” M’s manager Scott Servais said. “… We’re finding out more and more about our team.”

They’re also finding new ways to close out games without two of the high-leverage arms they expected to have coming into the year. Matt Brash is out for the year after having Tommy John surgery last week, and the timeline for Gregory Santos’ return from a lat strain remains a mystery.

That leaves Muñoz as the lone late-inning option with lights-out stuff, and Servais didn’t hesitate to call on his de facto closer in the eighth inning with one out and two runners in scoring position.

Muñoz got Royals star Bobby Witt Jr. to hit a soft grounder to second base on a check swing for the second out of the inning, scoring a run from third base to cut the Mariners’ lead to 3-2. Muñoz then struck out Vinnie Pasquantino with an elevated fastball on a checked swing.

In the ninth, Muñoz worked around a leadoff double by Salvador Perez and a throwing error by third baseman Luis Urias, striking out MJ Melendez with a slider and Fermin with a fastball to end it.

Two weeks ago, Muñoz earned the first five-out save of his career in a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

Since an early-April meltdown in Milwaukee – in which he walked four batters in a 6-5 loss – Muñoz has been nearly flawless. He hasn’t allowed a run over his past 11 innings.

“I’m so proud of him,” Servais said. “He was kind of off to a little bit of a shaky start this year and trying to figure (things) out. … And he just said, ‘… I’m gonna throw my best stuff, let it rip and see what happens.’ And that’s what happens when you’re that talented.”

Woo dazzled early, needing just 57 pitches to complete five scoreless innings. The only hit he allowed up to that point was a bunt single.

“Just be aggressive early and go right at ’em,” Woo said. “I think it’s something that I’ve been trying to improve on from last year – as much scouting and everything that you do on teams, it’s always trust your strengths over their weaknesses.”

But there was a 15-minute delay going into the bottom of the fifth inning when home-plate umpire Jim Wolf left the game for precautionary reasons. Wolf had taken a foul ball off his facemask earlier in the game.

On Friday night, after his first start coming off the injured list, Woo had issues with forearm stiffness following a lengthy rest between innings.

The delay Wednesday afternoon seemed to have a similar reaction.

Woo surrendered a leadoff single to Fermin in the sixth, then walked No. 9 hitter Kyle Isbel after a nine-pitch battle.

Adam Frazier, the ex-Mariner, followed with a flare just fair down the left-field line, loading the bases with no outs for Witt .

Woo, his pitch count at 73 pitches, stayed in to face Witt, who hit a long fly ball to Julio Rodriguez in center field for a sacrifice fly, scoring Fermin for the Royals’ first run.

That cut the Mariners’ lead to 2-1.

At that point, Servais called on Speier, the former Royals reliever, who got Pasquantino to pop out to Cal Raleigh in foul territory and then struck out Perez on three pitches to end the threat, stranding two runners.

Fermin had a bunt single and Frazier doubled down the right-field line off Mariners reliever Austin Voth in the eighth inning, putting the tying run in scoring position with one out.

Rojas’ RBI single in the seventh scored Dominic Canzone, who had a leadoff double in his first game back from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for a month.

Raley had two more hits Wednesday, and he finished the series 6 for 12 with two homers and six RBIs. With the bases loaded, his slide into third base in the second inning – after Frazier bobbled a grounder behind the third-base bag – allowed Raleigh to score the Mariners’ first run with two outs.

“Luke Raley has really taken it to another level,” Servais said. “ … There’s not many guys in our league who run as hard as he does on every play. That’s why he was safe. So credit to him.

“It’s rubbing off on a lot of our guys, what he and Rojas are doing on an everyday basis, and it’s been fun to watch.”