Mariners squeeze past Rays 1-0 in pitchers duel

Luis Castillo shows why he’s the Mariners ace, as he combines with the bullpen to shut out the Rays in the first game of a crucial series.

There have been times this season, when critics have questioned Luis Castillo‘s position as the Mariners staff ace. This has been due to not always pitching like one — which can happen to anyone in his position — combined with the play of George Kirby.

However, when it mattered most, Castillo came through versus the Rays. In what could be a season-defining series, he stepped up and showed what he’s all about.

It proved to be a necessary performance too, on a day when hits were at a premium. The righty would allow just four in 6.0 innings, while Rays starter Zack Littell gave up just five in 8.0 innings.

Perhaps the only negatives for Castillo, were that he gave up four walks and was one off his season-high with 108 pitches. However, it’s tough to be critical on a day where he also had eight strikeouts and didn’t allow a single run.

La Piedra lives up to his nickname

It’s also worth noting the three-time All-Star completed five innings for the 29th consecutive start this season. This is the most by any pitcher in the Majors.

Servais marveled about Castillo’s durability. He said:

“Right when you think the guy’s starting to tire, he doesn’t, and it’s an awesome trait to have. Not many have it.”

Castillo is coming into form at just the right time, with the Mariners winning his last eight outings. Prior to this, the team was 9-12 in games he started.

The 30-year-old showed his ability to deal with adversity, overcoming two-on, one-out situations in each of the first three innings. Discussing this through a translator postgame, as per Daniel Kramer of, he said:

“In those situations I don’t lose focus. If you look at my career, I actually like those situations because it helps me get focused. The way that I was able to battle and battle, just shows the way this team is.”

Again relating to the questioning of his status as staff ace, it should be noted Castillo leads Mariners starters in ERA, WHIP and strikeout-rate. Along with his WHIP, he is also on course to set a career-best for walk-rate.

Mariners bats do just enough

Offensively, Teoscar Hernández had two of the Mariners’ five hits. In the process, he improved his hitting streak to a career-best 16 games.

Cal Raleigh and Eugenio Suárez also had one hit each. However, the key one on the day came from Mike Ford, in the top of the second.

Suárez’s double started off the inning, before he was driven home by Ford for the only run of the game. Alluding to the lack of scoring, Mariners manager Scott Servais said:

“You get into the playoffs or deep into September, you’re going to have nights where it’s just tough.”

With Castillo out of the game, the ball was handed over to the bullpen to finish the job. And they looked well on their way, with Isaiah Campbell and Matt Brash both pitching clean innings.

Muñoz does what it takes

As seemingly always though, the Mariners had to put their fans through some more angst. This time it came in the ninth inning, with Andrés Muñoz on the mound.

The 24-year-old has — rightly or wrongly — received some criticism of late, for his struggles to close out games. He didn’t help his cause, when he hit the leadoff batter and soon after recorded a walk.

After Taylor Walls stole second base, the Rays brought the winning run to the plate with just one out. However, Muñoz showed he could come through in the clutch, by striking out the final two batters.

The righty deserved additional praise, for pitching three consecutive days for the first time in his Major League career. He said:

“They asked me before the game if I was ready to go in there, and I said, ‘Yes, of course’. I have to thank (the staff) for all the help they’ve given me in the past outings I’ve had that were tough for me, giving me the confidence to (go out) there in the ninth inning.”

Servais was impressed with how Muñoz dealt with his adversity in the ninth. He said:

“We’re going to need him (this month). You’re not going to have your A game every day, but you’ve still got to work through it. And he did.”

Potential playoff match-up

Even with just 10,060 fans in the Tropicana Field stands, there was a playoff feel to Thursday’s game. In this respect, the Mariners and Rays will potentially meet each other in the Wild Card round.

As such, it is important for the Mariners to out on a good showing in this four-game series. Certainly they’re off to an excellent start, and have the luxury of sending Kirby to the mound on Friday evening.

Of course the Mariners will be hoping they can win the AL West and clinch the second seed. As of Friday morning they are 79-61 and sitting just 0.5 games back of the Astros for the division lead.

Where is your confidence level at, in respect of the Mariners making the playoffs? And assuming you believe they will, is it going to be as AL West champions or as a Wild Card? Let us know in the comments section below.

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