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Milestone of the Week: Luis Castillo fights his way out of the woods

Do you smell what La Piedra is cooking?

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Blame the moniker. You can be steady, you can be constant, but when people call you a rock, they expect you to be immovable. And yet, we all know that no person is actually capable of that, even Luis Castillo.

Castillo began the year on an absolute tear, mowing down four teams with 26 strikeouts, to just four walks and a 3.4% barrel rate. Then he hit a bump. Beginning with his April 22 start against the Cardinals, his next five starts kept a good, if no longer elite, strikeout-to-walk ratio of 32:7, but the barrel rate spiked to 14.8%. It all came undone when he gave up three homers in Fenway Park on May 16, firmly knocking him out of the All-Star-Game-starter discussion.

Certainly, his starts were fine, but leaking too many balls over the middle of the plate got plenty of us a little worried that the ace was wobbling. The black hole that the offense fell into during this period only made it stand out all the more.

Yet despite the La Piedra sobriquet, Castillo’s actually run into trouble before. Right on the verge of being universally considered an ace, he opened the 2021 season with a 7.22 ERA and 4.81 FIP in his first 11 starts. Playing at Great American Small Park accounted for some of the eight home runs he gave up over those 52.1 innings, but it didn’t do much to explain his pedestrian 48:23 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

And then, he fought his way out of it. After the calendar flipped to June, his ERA dropped to 2.73, with a 3.34 FIP. That’s much closer to the numbers that made him the most desireable pitcher at the 2022 deadline and the guy who plowed through the Blue Jays for the Mariners’ first post-season victory in two decades.

In 2021, his bad stretch lasted 11 starts, so with a mere five tough games in this rough patch, many people (Anders Jorstad was the loudest voice in my ear) preached patience as he tried to get out of the brambles.

And what do you know, the monsters turned out to be just trees. On Monday, he found an extra two miles an hour on his four-seamer, and tore through the A’s, collecting 22 whiffs, his most as a Mariner. Along the way, he had the Play of the Week in recording his 1,000th career strikeout, becoming just the 22nd Dominican pitcher to reach the milestone.

None of the highlight videos I can find capture him collecting himself on the mound after getting to strike two, but it’s my favorite part, so I grabbed it.

You can feel the weight of the moment and what this means to him. All the better that it came during his bounceback game.

We shouldn’t lose sight of his performance on Saturday either, where he bested himself with 24 whiffs and tied his Mariner-tenure high with 10 strikeouts. Put together over the week, Castillo pitched 12 innings with 18 strikeouts, 4 walks, 5 hits, and no runs allowed.

To be sure, some of this is the quality of the competition he’s faced. In his rough stretch, he had to battle the Rangers, the Astros, the Blue Jays, and Fenway Park. But don’t let their overall records fool you; Pittsburgh and Oakland have quietly competent offenses.

Castillo may struggle again. But he’s fought his way out of the woods before and it looks like he’s done so again. The rock is on a roll.

Honorable Mentions

When the Mariners win six games in seven days, we get a lot of honorable mentions. We start, as my brand contractually obligates me to, with Jar Bear.

Jarred Reaches New Heights

Opposing managers have always been afraid of Jarred Kelenic. But with his results matching his potential this year, their fear has reached a new peak, and on Thursday, he got his first career intentional walk.

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Ty Breaks the Scoreboard

J.P. and Ty went back-to-back, which for my money is one of the more fun back-to-back combos available. Ty gets the honorable mention over J.P. for two reasons. First, because we don’t have room for his two-homer night in his first game back after taking a pitch off the hand. And second, because France messed with Texas.

Sewald Freezes Laureano

The 2023 Mariners rotation has been dynamite. And the bullpen conversation has focused on the unlikely (OK, given that it’s the Dipoto Regime, likely) success of Trevor Gott, Gabe Speier, Justin Topa, and Tayler Saucedo. When there’s been time to talk about the members of last year’s pen, it’s gone to concern about Andres Muñoz’s shoulder and debates about Matt Brash. I feel like we’ve maybe started to take Paul Sewald’s greatness for granted. The People’s Pitcher is 11 for 12 in save opportunities, with a top-ten K-BB%, and here he is stopping Ramon Laureano in his tracks while spitting just 92.

Local Boy Makes Good

It’s unusual for MLB players to come out of the rainy Pacific Northwest and unusual for a player to get to play for the team he rooted for as a kid. So the Mariners getting a local kid is one of the rarest combinations in MLB. But if Tayler Saucedo continues keeping runs off the board in stituations as big as this, we’ll have one of our own on the field for a long time.

Matt Brash Makes His Own Luck

Matt Brash has the fourth-best K-BB% among 189 qualified relievers. Fourth! And he’s one of only two in the top ten with a ground-ball rate over 50%. Yet he keeps popping up in The Discourse because he has given up so many runs. I swear, you don’t have to look far to see why. Back-to-back misplays from Kolten Wong and Jose Caballero on Tuesday that were both scored as hits are exactly why he’s running a BABIP of .532. Among pitchers who’ve thrown 20 innings, that BABIP is a hundred points higher than second place. The difference between his batted ball luck and second place is as big as the difference between #2 on the list and #49. So Matt Brash gets an honorable mention this week for taking matters into his own hands.

Eugenio Walks Off the Pirates

After going 763 PAs without an intentional walk, Jarred then picked up two in four days. Eugenio took that personally.