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Seattle Mariners

Commentary: Why being mad on the mound is good for Andrés Muñoz and the Mariners

Seattle Mariners pitcher Andres Munoz celebrates after throwing a strike to end the game against the Kansas City Royals at T-Mobile Park on Wednesday in Seattle. Munoz closed the win with a five-out save.  (Tribune News Service)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – If it happens, it won’t be because of luck. It won’t be “good vibes” or “chemistry” or even desire.

Nah, if the Mariners reach the playoffs this season, it likely will come down to pure, unbridled rage … from one Andrés Muñoz.

To talk to the Mariners closer is to interact with one of the sweeter players in baseball. He is never hostile, he is always honest, and if the native Spanish speaker isn’t sure his English response properly answered the question, he’ll follow up to make sure he did.

But when he’s on the mound, he’s mad as hell – and he’s not going to fake it.

Some athletes find their performances dip when they get upset. It’s part of the reason their competitors will talk smack. But like fellow Mariners pitcher George Kirby, Muñoz is glad to be mad out there. And that isn’t going well for opposing batters.

“When I am angry, when I’m like George, when I am like that I feel I am able to do better at everything,” said Muñoz, who recorded a five-out save Wednesday to help deliver Seattle a 4-2 victory over the Royals. “When I try to do 100% every pitch, that is when the results came.”

There used to be a lot more clutter in Muñoz’s head when he would take the mound. He exercised more caution and thought more meticulously about his pitch location. Now, he said he just tries to throw the ball as hard as he can down the middle of the plate. And though he doesn’t want to hit it precisely in the middle, you get the idea.

These days Muñoz – called Mooney by teammates and coaches – just unleashes fury. Sometimes it’s in the form of a triple-digit-mph fastball. Sometimes it’s in the form of one of the best sliders in baseball. Sometimes it’s in the form of his relatively new sinker.

The trio of pitches have helped Muñoz compile a 1.47 ERA and seven saves over 18⅓ innings this season. All in a time when the M’s have never needed him more.

Remember, reliever Matt Brash was supposed to be vital to Seattle’s bullpen, but he hasn’t pitched an inning all season and just had Tommy John elbow surgery. Fellow reliever Gregory Santos has a lat injury that has kept him out all year as well.

The bullpen was going to be a concern anyway with 2023 standouts Paul Sewald and Justin Topa playing for other teams. But thanks in large part to Muñoz’s performance in the ninth and eighth innings this season, the M’s (24-20) still sit atop the American League West.

Yes, seven times this season Muñoz has pitched in multiple innings. In none of those outings did he allow a run. Twice in the past 16 days he has recorded a five-out save, making him one of the most reliable relievers in the game.

This, frankly, is the Muñoz the Mariners have been envisioning for a while. He posted an ERA of 2.49 in 2022 and 2.94 last season, but what he has done over the past month is the best work of his career.

He has allowed just one earned run since April 5, the day he issued four walks in one-third of an inning to the Brewers. He has made 14 appearances since then and compiled 15⅔ innings over that stretch. Will this level of dominance continue? It’s hard to say. But this hasn’t been Muñoz simply improving his mechanics. It’s a new mindset.

“(Muñoz) has always had great stuff. One of the best sliders in the league, a fastball that gets up to 99, 100 miles an hour, but the mentality has always been what separates guys,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “That’s what we’re seeing from him right now. He is just letting it rip. And I’m so proud of him – because he was kind of off to a shaky start this year, trying to figure out his slider, where’s it at, sinker, 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.”

The Mariners have been playing excellent baseball since starting the season 6-10. It’s a long season, so there will be dips – but don’t get mad when they do. Just leave that to the closer, and things will be fine.