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Pitch Sequence of the Week: Andrés Muñoz has a new toy

Bregman lets that sink in

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

There are a few problems with only having two pitches. One is that hitters have an easier time adjusting to your pitches if they’ve already seen them that day. That’s a big part of what the times-through-the-order penalty is about, and relatedly, it’s why guys who can’t develop a third pitch end up tracked to the bullpen.

Having only two pitches leaves you a thinner margin for error. Take a pitcher like Yu Darvish, for example, who throws seven pitches. He and his catchers and coaches come up with a game plan for how to attack opposing hitters according to the hitters’ weaknesses. But Darvish also likes to feel things out early in the game, and figure out which pitches are working that day. If the sinker’s really good, you’ll see a lot of them. If the slider is tight, then it’s sliders tonight. Relievers can’t do it like this.

Take Andrés Muñoz. He was one of the best relievers in baseball last year thanks to having two excellent pitches. When the two pitches you have are as good as Andrés Muñoz’s four-seamer and slider, you can get away with it if one isn’t working so hot. A good pitch is hard to hit even if you know it’s coming. But not always. And one of Muñoz’s weaknesses has been that he can get a little predictable. When he didn’t trust his slider in Minnesota in last year’s first season, for example, it led to a big problem because Byron Buxton can absolutely catch up even to 101 when he knows it’s coming. Watch his leg kick; there’s no way he thinks this is going to a breaking ball.

To be sure, the bombero’s four-seamer and slider were amazing last year. Especially after he worked on his slider to give it some extra velo, he was practically untouchable. But the few times that he got into trouble was when one pitch wasn’t working and you could sit on the other pitch.

So it was very encouraging to learn that Muñoz developed a third pitch over the offseason, a sinker. In a very poorly timed article, I wrote about the new pitch just as he landed on the IL for two months, but that piece has a lot more detail on why I think it’s a good pitch for him.

But then weirdly, when he came off the IL, he reverted back to only being a four-seam/slider guy for a while, not throwing any sinkers in June and only throwing four up until July 22. But since then, he’s been working all three pitches, and I think it’s helped him tremendously.

The case in point for me was Sunday’s eighth-inning at-bat against Alex Bregman. With Hancock pulled after just two innings and the team ten days into a 13-day stretch without an off day, the bullpen was running on fumes. The team had just a one-run lead, and the Astros’ most dangerous hitters were due up. Muñoz had to get this done.

He started by easily dispatching Jeremy Peña and José Altuve. If he could get Bregman too, he’d give the Mariners a chance to see Yordan Álvarez without anyone on base. He opened with a sinker for a called strike on the inside edge.

But then he turned to his first four-seamer of the afternoon and missed badly.

At 1-1, he tried the pitch again, and got closer but still couldn’t land it.

Now behind in the count, he turned to his slider, the pitch he’d gotten Altuve to harmlessly ground out on.

That’s a miss, but it’s close enough and he’d landed one earlier. Still, the count reached 3-1, so what’s he supposed to do? Well, that’s where having the third pitch comes in handy. He tried his sinker, and Bregman was way out in front.

And at last we turn to the coup de grace. Last season, if Muñoz had been struggling so much to command his four-seamer, Bregman could have been positive he was going to see a slider. For my part, I was certain he was going to throw a slider here, and was very worried that Bregman would be sitting on it and either crush it or let it float outside the zone and bring Yordan Álvarez to the plate as the go-ahead run.

It sure seems like Bregman thought so too. But this is the beauty of having that third pitch. And ending the sequence this way stopped me cold. Freezing a diminished-but-still-very-good hitter in a high leverage spot thanks to a new arrow in the quiver? That’s Play of the Week material if I ever saw it.

Honorable Mentions

Ty France helps set a record

This week was so wild that I somehow forgot that it included the Mariners hitting four home runs in a single inning. First, Geno and Ty went back-to-back. Then Cal worked a four-pitch walk before Teo went yaya. Five batters later, Josh Rojas hit his first homer of the year, which made it four in an inning, tying a franchise record. Ty’s was the longest of the four at 437 feet, and it also helped him settle in as the hitter with the highest average as a visitor at Kauffman Stadium with at least 30 ABs.

Julio Goes Supersonic

How do you pick a Julio moment in a week like this? The AL Player of the Week had four four-hit games in a row, with his 17 total the most in MLB history. And it’s not like the other three games were bad: he had three doubles in them! When the week started, his line was .255/.318/.433 with a .324 wOBA and 111 wRC+. When it ended, he’d raised those numbers to .278/.336/.462, good for a .343 wOBA and 124 wRC+. Oh, and he also stole six bases. The highlights are unyielding, so I’m picking the hit with the highest WPA, this towering 438-foot shot that turned a 4-2 deficit into a 5-4 lead on the first pitch of the at-bat. The Royals series felt like kind of a slog considering that the Mariners won three out of four games. So I’m extra grateful to Julio for this one, since it ended the series on such a high note.

Suárez Turns Two

Some might prefer his barehanded grab to save the game on Sunday. I’m partial to the body control on display here, as his momentum takes him away from the throw. Unfortunately, the advanced stats do not love Eugenio Suárez’s defense as much as the highlight reel would have you believe. Nonetheless, the chorus for his Gold Glove case is getting louder.

Gabe throws a spear through the heart of the Astros lineup

Seattle’s newest wet guy picked up his first save this week. And I’m sorry if you keep having to hear me say this in different fora, but he’s been on a roll lately. Over 13 outings dating back to July 22, he’s thrown 11.1 innings and struck out 15 while walking just 2, and allowing 8 hits and zero runs. Speier for closer, who says no? The role certainly seems to suit him considering that he threw five of the seven fastest pitches of his career, including this 97-mph heater to get Álvarez.