Woo's MRI comes back 'perfectly clean'

Righty could rejoin Mariners' rotation as early as next week

June 13th, 2024

SEATTLE -- One day after he was scratched from his scheduled start against the White Sox, received positive results on an MRI that came back “perfectly clean,” Mariners general manager Justin Hollander said on Wednesday.

Hollander said that Woo could be re-inserted back into Seattle’s rotation as soon as next week, but the club will take the next few days to determine his status.

“Somewhat depends on how he feels,” Hollander said. “But the MRI was great and we're really, really happy with how everything looked. So that's a positive.”

To account for Woo's disrupted routine and overall workload -- and the rest of the rotation's, for that matter -- the Mariners added Emerson Hancock to their taxi squad from Triple-A Tacoma, with the possibility of him making a big league start in the coming days.

“He certainly could," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "Again, we have played so many games without a day off. And I think our starting rotation leads all of baseball in innings pitched. We're right at the top. We've leaned on these guys heavily. Any time you can get them an extra day, it's something that we're thinking about doing, and that's why Emerson's here today. We'll see where it plays out the next day or two.”

The Mariners don't anticipate a shutdown period for Woo, who threw earlier this week when the club returned from its road trip to Kansas City. However, the club knows that his routine could be ever-evolving, given that his overall workload has been so low since he was drafted in 2021.

Woo jumped from 57 innings in his pro debut season in 2022 to 131 2/3 in '23 (including Minors), and he's been closely monitored since being activated from the IL on May 10 due to right medial elbow inflammation, which surfaced just days before Opening Day.

"Bryan is a really unique story," Hollander said. "He just doesn't have the volume that Major League pitchers have usually established in their career."

Woo has already tinkered with his routine in-between starts. Late last month, he skipped a bullpen session typical for most starters, which involves 20-30 pitches at 75-80% effort.

How do they continue to tweak it to prevent issues from surfacing again?

"That's a great question that I don't have a perfect answer to right now,” Hollander said. “We're looking at a bunch of different things on how we can help him continue to maintain and improve volume over time, just to get used to the schedule that's required. He just hasn't been through the things that typical starting pitchers have been through.”

Woo’s value can’t be overstated. The Mariners are undefeated when he pitches, and his 1.07 ERA is the best through a pitcher’s first six outings in franchise history. He has 24 strikeouts, two walks and one homer allowed to go with a .343 OPS against, which is by far the best in MLB among pitchers with at least 30 innings.

"He's so good,” Hollander said. “He's so unique. ... Everybody's individual on what is going to make them feel good in between outings and prepare them to go pitch at the highest level. He's obviously pitching at a level that is really unique in this league right now, and we just need to help him and make sure that he is prepared to go do that on a regular schedule. But we feel really good that he is healthy and that we will see him back soon.”

The Mariners are in a stretch of 30 games in 31 days, and their rotation leads the Majors with 403 innings. Beyond Woo’s status, that’s where Hancock fits in. After all, he was Woo’s fill-in when Woo was on the IL for the first six weeks of the season, posting a 5.24 ERA that was mainly ballooned by one tough start at Milwaukee.

Hancock hasn’t pitched since Friday for Tacoma, which could put him in play for Thursday against the White Sox or at some point against the Rangers this weekend. Doing so would allow Servais to push every other starter back one day.

“We have to be conservative with where we're at with the year,” Servais said. “When guys are feeling things, we need to back off. We're going to continue to do that -- because I think we have a lot of big baseball ahead of us in the season.”