Muñoz flashes no-hit stuff in encouraging start

June 14th, 2024

NEW YORK -- Marlins rookie right-hander didn’t know he was throwing a no-hitter until looking up at the largest jumbotron in Major League Baseball and seeing a zero in New York’s hit column during the fifth inning.

Muñoz wouldn’t allow a hit until Harrison Bader’s one-out single in the sixth, and he left after tossing six scoreless frames. Unfortunately for the Marlins, closer Tanner Scott surrendered a walk-off two-run homer to J.D. Martinez in a 3-2 loss to the Mets on Thursday night at Citi Field.

The 24-year-old Muñoz’s performance marked the longest no-hit bid by a Miami pitcher this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he became the fifth Marlins rookie with a no-hit bid of 5 1/3 innings or longer, and the first since righty José Fernández, whose bid also lasted 5 1/3 innings on Sept. 6, 2013.

“It's really good stuff,” Marlins manager Skip Schumaker said. “He's going to be really good. He just has some work to do. He's a young kid, but you're going to see starts like that because he has really good stuff. And then you'll see starts where he scatters a little bit. But that's all part of the development. There's lots of exciting traits he has as a starting pitcher. Especially working with [pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.], he can be a good one.”

Things didn’t start out promising, as Muñoz hit leadoff batter Francisco Lindor in the first. But he erased the baserunner with a double play off the bat of Brandon Nimmo.

After Muñoz walked Starling Marte with one out in the second, he retired 12 in a row until Bader’s knock. Catcher Christian Bethancourt then unleashed an 88.9 mph throw -- his fastest of the season -- to nab Bader trying to steal. Lindor lined out to left to end Muñoz’s fifth big league start at 81 pitches (49 strikes).

Muñoz faced one batter over the minimum, and only one baserunner got into scoring position. He pounded the zone, tallying first-pitch strikes to 14 of 19 batters (73.7%), just behind his 73.9% mark from May 1 against the Rockies. In that game, Muñoz permitted just one run over six frames. It’s no coincidence those have been his two best starts.

“First-pitch strikes were outstanding,” Schumaker said. “He was on the attack, kept guys off-balance. I thought his changeup was good. His slider was really effective. Ball was on the ground a lot. He was outstanding tonight. It was honestly really tough to tell him he was done after the sixth inning. We had a pretty fresh bullpen with the right guys lined up.”

Muñoz relied on a heavy dose of fastballs -- cutter (40.7%), four-seamer (30.9%) and sinker (13.6%) -- for his highest usage (85.2%) in MLB. His average fastball velocity was up 0.6 mph on his four-seamer and 1.0 mph on his cutter and sinker, and he maxed out at 98 mph on a ball to Bader in the third for his fastest pitch in an MLB uniform. His four-seamer and cutter had above-average horizontal movement.

Despite the Mets entering with a .334 wOBA against fastballs -- 13th in MLB (.259/.341/.411) -- they couldn’t solve Muñoz’s arsenal.

“The life on the fastball and the movement,” Mets manager Carlos Mendoza said. “He was throwing that cutter, and then the sinker into righties, the four-seam. That's what made him effective. We couldn't hit many balls hard. He was on today. We chased a few pitches out of the strike zone, but I think the way he used the fastball today on both sides of the plate with movement made it tough.”

It’s an encouraging sign moving forward for both Muñoz and the Marlins, whose success is predicated on their starting pitching. His outing was the first quality start of the month for the club, which dropped to 2-8 in June.

Muñoz’s third stint in the big leagues is once again due to the rotation’s ongoing injuries. Left-hander Ryan Weathers recently joined righties Edward Cabrera and Sixto Sánchez on the injured list. None of them appear close to being reinstated, so Muñoz could garner a handful of starts.

In his return to the Majors last Saturday, Muñoz gave up four runs on five hits, including two homers, and four walks across four-plus innings. Between that start and the one on May 6 at Dodger Stadium, he has a 10.38 ERA with eight strikeouts and eight walks in 8 2/3 frames. In the other three starts, he has a 1.59 ERA with 19 strikeouts and four walks in 17 innings.

“I've got to keep trusting my pitches, keep moving forward,” Muñoz said via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. “There's good days, there's bad days. But keep trusting in my pitches, stay focused.”