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Mariners fire back against the Pirates, even the series with a one-sided win

La Piedra dominates, the lineup collaborates, and the Pirates capitulate.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Seattle Mariners Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to knowledge of the history and nuances of nautical affairs, I make no illusions about my level of knowledge. The resident expert is Jacob Parr, but it doesn’t take an expert to know that when an opponent successfully outfires you on the first volley, it is important to answer back decisively and with aplomb. In yesterday’s first matchup, there were no warning shots between the Pirates and Mariners, and it was the Pittsburgh vessel that thoroughly outfired the one from Seattle. The Mariners did not make the mistake of using all of their ammo on the first volley yesterday like the Pirates did, and today shut out the Pirates 5-0.

The lineup of The Good Ship Mariner absolutely loaded up their cannons to better effect than the Pirates who only packed in duds, but the real key to victory was the flanking by their sister vessel, La Piedra, carrying a crew of Los Bomberos. Luis Castillo has, rightfully, caused some concern surrounding more than a few games where he battled either slippy command, a lower velo on the fastball, or both. Today he avoided those rocky waters, and cruised with the wind in his sails. When he first pulled up to the Pirates’ ship, he was immediately struck by a leadoff double. Six innings, only two walks, and ten strikeouts later, that would be the only hit he allowed all game.

La Piedra’s final line for the night only tells a part of the tale. He handled the Pirates thoroughly, them managing to foul balls off being the main reason his pitch count kept him from lasting longer into the game. He landed 64 of his 99 pitches for strikes. His four seamer reached 98.3 mph and averaged 97.2 mph, more than a full tick over his average on the year. His sinker was also more than a full tick up over his season average, reaching as high as 98.1 mph, and the whiff rate on that pitch was 25% (two on eight swings), his lowest whiff rate on a pitch today, and it was his least used pitch. He also collected five whiffs apiece for his slider and changeup, out of seven swings each. His four seam fastball induced 12 whiffs on 27 swings, or 44%. That all amounted to a total whiff rate of 49% on all his pitches, and he ended the night with a collective 39% CSW. The vessel that La Piedra embodied today, left the Pirates in splinters.

In the postgame presser, Scott Servais alluded to a “tweak” that Castillo made before his last start, but wouldn’t go into specifics. “He made a little adjustment before his last start, and the results were outstanding. And he stayed with it, of course, as you should. I won’t get into specifics there and it’s not a big deal.” His velocity was noticeably up his last outing as well, so whatever the tweak was, it is so far safe to say it is working. Luis Castillo himself mentioned that he has been working on his secondaries with the pitching coaches, his changeup and slider, and today’s results speak to quick dividends. Perhaps these two statements are related, because in his final batter of the night, Carlos Santana, he managed to get a swinging strikeout on a 90 mph (!) changeup. Castillo was only bringing his best out of love though, and had this to say about Santana after the game: “Santana to me is like a brother. I talk to him maybe 3-4 times a week. And facing him today was kind of special, so every pitch that I threw him, I kind of smiled whenever I did, it was great.”

The crew of The Good Ship Mariner witnessed this flanking action from their ace vessel, and wasted no time in providing supporting fire. Captain J.P. Crawford leadoff the assault with a liner into right for a double. Ty France liked that so much he did the same thing, only down the left side, scoring Crawford on a double of his own. Julio and Kelenic also had the idea to copy each other, unfortunately they both popped out to almost the same place in shallow left. Eugenio Suárez then parachuted a single into shallow right, scoring France.

Cal Raleigh then singled to move Eugenio to third, and Teoscar Hernández laced the third double of the inning into left field to bring Suárez home. The Mariners had an early 3-0 lead, but the rally would end with a José Caballero pop out. Seattle got right back to work in the second, after a Kolten Wong strikeout anyways. Crawford snuck one through the middle for a single, France worked a full count walk, and Julio Rodríguez doubled to left, scoring Crawford. Kelenic and Geno would both strikeout swinging to leave the damage at one run for the inning and a 4-0 lead, but every run felt important after the showing the Pirates lineup had yesterday. Julio must have thought so, doing work to set himself up to score the Mariners fifth and final run, in the bottom of the seventh. JRod leadoff and hit a liner to left for a single, stole second on a swinging strikeout pitch against Kelenic, and advanced to third when the throw to second went wide. With only the one out, this was a perfect setup for Eugenio to try and hit one at least deep enough for a sacrifice fly. He... kind of did that.

The throw to get Julio at home was an amazing one, but the true credit here goes to JRod. He threaded the needle perfectly between the catcher’s leg on the slide. Rodríguez had this to say about the play, “It was a bang-bang play but I definitely thought that I got my foot in there. It was right in the middle of the base, so there wasn’t anywhere else to go. I wasn’t afraid of hitting him. My foot’s gonna stay here, like I’m 225, so he’s gonna feel the hit too.” Julio now has a hitting streak of six games, and all but one of them have been multi-hit games. This is just his way of reminding the fans on who he is. Yes, there have been some struggles to start the season, but to generational talents like Julio these are only motivators, and we would be wise not to bet against him. In his own words, “As I always say, going through the tough times, it’s fun. It’s fun to be able to come out on top. It’s definitely been a lot of work, a lot of work with the people close to me, but I’m feeling excited about where things are heading, and I think things are trending in the right direction.”

Between Luis Castillo and Julio Rodríguez there was plenty to be happy about in regards to turning things around, but the same can generally be said about the lineup as a whole. Yesterday’s six runs were a bright spot in the lopsided loss, and today, every hitter not named Kolten Wong managed to get at least a hit. In fact, the “whole team contributed” is the underlying theme to this game. A great start and a solid lead are only as good as the bullpen you deploy to protect. Los Bomberos was in full effect today. Gabe Speier worked two thirds of an inning in the top of the seventh, notching a strikeout. Pittsburgh opted to pinch hit Andrew McCutchen for Josh Palacios, and Seattle answered with Matt Brash.

Trevor Gott worked a clean eighth and landed two strikeouts, both swinging. Justin Topa then came in for the ninth, and worked a one walk, two three strikeout inning to sink what was left of the Pirates craft. Well... about that final strike...

There really isn’t any excuse for the call from blue there, but if we’re being honest, this game was already over. Sure, maybe the Pirates would have managed a run, or two, if that call had gone their way. But, I don’t think so. Seattle’s pitching struck out more Pittsburgh batters today than any other team has all season, at 17. Even if you erase that last one to end the game, it still easily clears their previous season high of 13. The Seattle Mariners came into this one with cannons loaded, aimed, and ready to fire. Skipper Scott Servais said this about the double Castillo allowed in the first inning, but really it applies to today’s game being an answer to yesterday’s as well, “sometimes when they punch at you it wakes you up, and then you punch a little harder back at them. And that’s what we saw today.” Ride this wind forward, Mariners, and let those cannons keep punching.