Mariners beat Pirates 5-0 thanks to resurgence of two stars

Luis Castillo and Julio Rodriguez lead the way for Mariners in shutout win to tie series, with both players now over their recent slumps.

Luis Castillo is fully capable of winning a Cy Young, while Julio Rodriguez has superstar written all over him. And yet, both players have had their challenges of late for the Mariners.

The month of May began badly for Castillo, as he allowed 19 hits and 14 runs in 17 combined innings over the course of three games. The sum result was the Mariners lost all three times, with his forrm certainly not what you would expect.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez experienced a 12-game sequence where he had just one home run and struggled to hit in general. As a result he saw his batting average dip to .204 – for context, the only other time it was lower this season was on opening day, when he went 0-for-4.

Then, things started to turn around for two of the most high profile players on the Mariners. (And what a blessing it must be for fans to have talent of this caliber.)

Facing the moribund Athletics, Castillo had his first shutout performance in six starts. He allowed just four hits and two walks, while forcing 22 swings-and-misses on the way to eight strikeouts.

In the same game, Rodriguez had three hits and an RBI. While the 11-2 win for Seattle was the most important thing, it proved to be a launching pad for him to begin a five-game hitting streak, which included five RBI.

Boosted by their recent success, both players entered Saturday’s game in confident mood. And each of them proved pivotal in the Mariners beating the Pirates 5-0 and tying the three-game series.

Castillo looks more like a staff ace again

Starting with Castillo, he had arguably his best outing of the year as he pitched six scoreless innings. He allowed a lead-off double in the top of the first and then that was it, as the Pittsburgh bats were snuffed out.

The only other three Pirates batters to reach base versus the 30-year-old, came via a hit-by-pitch and two walks. He also had 10 strikeouts, his most of the season and also tied for his career-high

Pittsburgh had come out aggressively the previous night, which ended in 11 runs off 15 hits. As such they took a similar approach on Saturday, but this turned out to be a mistake.

Castillo discussed his game plan afterwards, for dealing with the Pirates offense. Talking through his interpreter, he said:

“I saw they came out aggressive. So in my mind, I said, ‘Okay, I’ve just got to throw a variety of different pitches.’ And that’s what I did throughout the whole game. I threw a variety of pitches and it seemed to work. I’m sure that threw off the plan of them coming out aggressive.”

Don’t always make assumptions

In a surreal kind of way, it took Castillo’s recent slump to almost stop people taking him for granted. He is a supremely talented pitcher yes, but what he does isn’t as easy as he may sometimes make it look.

Regardless, the two-time All-Star now has five scoreless outings of at least five innings. This is tied with the Blue Jays’ Kevin Gausman and Drew Rasmussen of the Rays for the most in Major League Baseball so far this year.

As we essentially hit the third-way point of the campaign, Castillo is on course for arguably the best season of his seven-years in the Majors. More specifically, his ERA, WHIP and walks per nine innings are all projected to be career-bests.

Mariners manager Scott Servais is just happy to have Castillo on his ball club. He said:

“It was awesome today after that first hit of the game. He got after it (and was) just super aggressive. I can’t say enough about what he means to our pitching staff, and what he’s done since he’s been here. I know there’s been a few rocky starts here recently, but he takes the mound and is super competitive. I love having him out there.”

J-Rod continues his excellent hitting streak

Turning to Rodriguez, he had another fine game, with two hits and an RBI. He now has a season-best six-game hitting streak, helping his batting average jump from .204 to .238.

The 22-year-old’s biggest offensive contribution came in the bottom of the seventh. He hit a lead-off single, before stealing second and then advancing to third on a throwing error.

Rodriguez subsequently scored on a Eugenio Suarez sacrifice fly, but only after a challenge by Servais. A review confirmed the 2022 AL Rookie of the Year slid and hit home plate, before contact with the ball was made.

After the game, Rodriguez spoke to the media about the collision with Pittsburgh catcher Jason Delay. He said:

“I was just thinking to score. It was definitely a really good throw. It was a bang-bang play. I definitely thought I got my foot in there and he was right in the middle of the base, so there wasn’t anywhere else to go.”

Rodriguez’s mindset about the physical aspect of the play must have been music to the ears of Mariners fans. He said:

“I wasn’t afraid of hitting him. So if he’s going to stay there, I’m 225 (pounds), so he’s going to feel the hit, too.”

Servais was certainly in agreement with the young outfielder’s approach. He said:

“He absolutely did the right thing when sliding in. So many times you see guys slide in and they try to avoid the tag and stick their hand in there. And in that situation, they’re out the majority of the time. You slide right through the catcher, right at the base.”

Mariners take control early

As much as Rodriguez provided an important run, Seattle did the majority of their scoring early on. In particular, they scored three runs in the bottom of the first for a quick 3-0 lead.

J.P. Crawford got things going with a lead-off double. He then scored the first run of the game courtesy of another double, this time by Ty France.

Crawford is having an excellent season with the bat and continues to thrive in the lead-off spot. He is on course for single-season career-bests for RBI, OBP and OPS.

Next, Suarez singled to bring France home and make it 2-0. Then Teoscar Hernandez hit a double which scored Suarez, and the Pirates could not recover from the early deficit.

That man Rodriguez hit his RBI in the bottom of the second, to allow Crawford to reach home and make it 4-0. Pittsburgh managed to shut things down for the most part after this, but the damage was already done.

As seemingly per usual, the bullpen did their job after Castillo left the game. They combined to pitch three innings, allowing just one hit and a walk, while striking out seven and preserving the shutout.

A fine day at the ballpark

Overall, there was plenty for the Mariners to be happy about. Servais said:

“Nice ballgame. It kind of checked all the boxes today – great crowd, great weather, home team wins, shutout, day game, it was fun.”

With the victory, the Mariners improve to 27-25 and go two games above .500 for just the second time this season. They also moved to within three games of a wild card spot.

Next up, Seattle will see if they can win Sunday’s rubber match versus Pittsburgh. Marco Gonzales will take the ball, hoping to build on his previous start against Oakland.

Are the Mariners on the verge of overcoming their average start to the year and winning more consistently? Or do you predict they are going to stay around the .500 mark for the remainder of the 2023 season? Let us know in the comments section below.

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