Castillo comes 9 outs short of perfection in 9-K gem

'La Piedra' nearly provides MLB’s first perfect game since 'The King' in 2012

April 17th, 2023

SEATTLE -- The comparisons to Félix Hernández were uttered the moment that first donned a Mariners uniform. The profile of their pitches, their hyper-intimidating mound presence, and above all, their ability to completely overpower an opposing lineup in any given start were easy attributes to link these Latin arms.

And after Castillo carried a perfect game into the seventh inning on Sunday, it was impossible not to draw parallels to when “The King” went the distance on this very mound nearly 11 years ago.

Castillo carved through Colorado en route to a 1-0 win that secured a sweep and pulled the Mariners back to .500, coming just nine outs shy of the perfecto after allowing a leadoff single to Jurickson Profar in a 2-2 count. Kris Bryant immediately followed with an infield single, but Castillo retired Charlie Blackmon, C.J. Cron and Ryan McMahon -- the heart of the order -- in succession to strand Bryant and Profar in scoring position and cap seven scoreless innings.

“It would be a dream come true because every starter goes out there and [tries to] give their best performance,” Castillo said through an interpreter. “Going out there and having no hits, a no-hitter, and then, you know, having a perfect game would be even better. I wouldn't say it's a goal of mine, but it's a huge goal for any starter that goes up on the mound.”

It was also a very Félix-like start given the tightrope he walked with just one run of support, via a 106.6 mph RBI single from  in the sixth that proved decisive and also extended Kelenic’s hit streak to 10 games. The Mariners’ budding slugger also made a remarkable diving catch in the eighth behind reliever after Castillo departed that prevented the game-tying run off the bat of Elias Díaz.

Kelenic covered 36 feet with an opportunity time of just three seconds, per Statcast, converting a play that had just a 40% catch probability. 

“The ball was tailing away from me, and I knew I just had to beat it to the spot,” Kelenic said. “When those balls are tailing like that, you've got to kind of outrun it.

“Any time you've got a guy on the mound that’s slinging upper-90s [heat] with some sink, especially to a right-hander, a lot of times the ball is going to tail a lot. And so I'm already, especially with a righty up, anticipating that they're going to hit something kind of like that."

Seattle’s bats mustered just four hits, but it proved to be no matter -- its best hitter and best pitcher, so far, put the Mariners on their backs.

“Pitching and defense,” manager Scott Servais said. “There’s no substitute for it.”

“La Piedra” won’t go in the record books after Sunday, bidding for the 24th perfect game in MLB history and what would’ve been the first since Hernández. But he’s on a fast track for consideration for AL Pitcher of the Month honors for April -- and he’s made it no secret that he has his sights set on the Cy Young Award. He’s also keenly aware that the All-Star Game will be played in his backyard in three months.

“That's a goal,” Castillo said. “Being up there and representing the team that I'm with, it's one of the goals that I always put on myself in the beginning of the season.”

Sunday was his best start of 2023, but it was also a continuation of what’s been pure dominance. He’s been scoreless in three of his four outings and his only blemishes were two runs surrendered to the Cubs on Monday -- via a down-the-line double that barely hooked fair and a bloop single.

That has correlated to a 0.73 ERA that ranks fourth in MLB among 73 qualified pitchers. Castillo’s 26 strikeouts, including nine on Sunday, are tied for ninth. He has faced 88 batters this year and surrendered only four walks and 11 hits, including zero homers, equating to a slash line of .131/.170/.167 (.337 OPS).

“He’s a true competitor and just absolutely disgusting,” Kelenic said.

Hernández spent his entire 15-year MLB career in Seattle, though he vied for roster spots with Atlanta and Baltimore in Spring Training in 2020 and ‘21, respectively, but didn’t make either team.

Castillo has been with the Mariners for just 261 days, but he continues to make such an imposing impact following that trade that is proving more transcendent with each start.