SEATTLE — A year ago, in the final start of his first season of pro baseball, Bryan Woo gave up five runs in 3 2/3 innings pitching in Everett for the High-A AquaSox. He walked seven batters that day.
Exactly 366 days later, he got a standing ovation at T-Mobile Park on Tuesday evening, the crowd of 33,771 chanting “Wooooo!” as he walked off the mound following one of the most important starts of his rookie season.
A friend sent him a highlight of the ovation that night, and Woo said he watched it “a bunch of times.”
He struck out eight, with no walks, over 5 2/3 innings in an 8-0 victory over the Angels.
“A standing ovation, as a player, is one of the coolest things you could possibly get,” Woo said in the Mariners’ dugout the next day. “That was super, super special. I was just trying take all that in as much as I could.”
The Mariners, in turn, are trying to get as much as they possibly can out of their two rookie starters — Woo and Bryce Miller — as they chase down a second straight postseason berth over the final 21/2 weeks of the regular season.
Thursday was a much-needed off day for the Mariners (81-65), who enter a weekend home series vs. the L.A. Dodgers sitting 11/2 games back of Houston atop the AL West.
Seattle holds a one-game lead over Toronto for the final wild-card spot.
If they do get back into the postseason, the Mariners are intrigued by the possibility of having Woo and Miller as options out of the bullpen. In short bursts, the rookies’ “rising” fastballs could be tantalizing weapons come October.
Woo said he watched every one of the Mariners’ postseason games last season. Part of him still can’t believe he’s here, in Seattle, pitching meaningful games for a playoff contender.
“It’s just a really special group of guys. They’ve taken Bryce and me under their wings, and I’m just super thankful to be able to just come into this,” Woo said. “This group obviously broke the drought last year, but no one is satisfied in any sense in terms of what we want to do in the future.”
Woo acknowledged he hit something of a rookie wall in early August — not unexpected for a 23-year-old just two years removed from Tommy John surgery. He spent 18 days on the injured list last month with what was described as right forearm inflammation.
His four starts since then have been uneven. On a humid night in Cincinnati last week, he allowed five runs in five innings — hitting three batters and walking three more, with no strikeouts.
The Mariners pushed back his next outing, giving him three extra days’ rest before his start Tuesday against the Angels. The downside was the Mariners lost in Tampa on Saturday — what would have been Woo’s turn in the rotation — when they opted for a bullpen day.
The offsetting benefits of having Woo a little fresher, the Mariners hope, will be worth it.
“We had to improvise a little bit over in Tampa,” manager Scott Servais said. “ … But you’re trying to play to win the war. And along the way, you may lose a battle here or there. But at the end of the day, we’re doing everything we can to keep our guys strong and give ourselves the best shot to get into the playoffs — and go deep in the playoffs.”
Woo’s four-seam fastball velocity was back up slightly Tuesday — touching 95.6 mph, averaging 94.1 — and he said he felt as good physically as he had in any start this season.
Woo has thrown 119 2/3 innings this season — 75 2/3 with the Mariners, plus 44 innings over nine starts with Double-A Arkansas to open the season. It is, by far, the most he’s thrown his entire life.
“It’s definitely been a whirlwind of a year. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” said Woo, who is 3-4 with 76 strikeouts in his first 15 major league starts. “Honestly, it is a process with how much I’ve thrown this year. I definitely hit a little bit of a slow patch there (in late July/early August), just going through some fatigue.
“But I think I’m definitely trending up again. My body feels a lot better … and I feel like I’m in a good spot going into these last couple weeks, and hopefully into the playoffs.”