Ryan Rowland-Smith explains new Mariners ace Robbie Ray’s breakout

Nov 30, 2021, 4:44 PM | Updated: 9:30 pm
Mariners Robbie Ray...
Robbie Ray prepares to throw a pitch against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Mariners have added a new ace to their starting rotation on Monday in Robbie Ray, who broke out in 2021 on his way to winning the American League Cy Young Award.

Mariners Breakdown: What to know about Cy Young winner Robbie Ray

While Ray, who turned 30 last month, had enjoyed success before, even making an All-Star team in 2017 while a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, it was never anything like what he did for the Toronto Blue Jays this year.

Ray went 13-7 with a 2.84 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 248 strikeouts over 32 starts, leading MLB in strikeouts and the AL in ERA, WHIP and quality starts (23), and finishing second in the AL in batting average against (.210).

It was quite the turnaround from a year before when Ray struggled in seven starts with Arizona, posting a 7.84 ERA, an 2.00 WHIP and a National League-high 31 walks in 31 innings, which is made all that more notable when you consider he spent the entire last month of the season in the AL following his trade to Toronto. He finished 2020 leading all of MLB with 45 walks, though he was better with the Blue Jays (four starts, 4.79 ERA, 1.742 WHIP).

As pointed out by Ryan Rowland-Smith, a former MLB pitcher who is now an analyst for Mariners broadcasts on 710 ESPN Seattle and ROOT Sports, something clearly clicked for Ray in 2021.

“He has been through some adversity, he has been through some struggles,” Rowland-Smith said during a visit with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy after news of Ray’s signing broke Monday. “I love that, because now here’s a guy that it’s not like he’s just dominating every single year and here he is; he’s been through some stuff and he’s figured out what works for him.”

Ray improved his average fastball velocity in 2021 to 94.8 mph, which is something Rowland-Smith believes is an indication that Ray found the right changes for long-term success.

“You see that spike in velocity – he made some mechanical adjustments that he had to go all the way back to when he was drafted,” Rowland-Smith said, “because the D-backs kept tinkering and tinkering mechanically with him and he was going back and forth, back and forth. And this year he’s like, ‘You know what, I’m going back to what feels comfortable.’ And one of those things was staying over the rubber, having a bigger base on the lower half. And I think when you grab onto something like that and it just feels right and it feels like you, all of the sudden you just roll.”

Ray pitched at T-Mobile Park against the Mariners on Aug. 13, and it was an entertaining watch for Rowland-Smith, who was a fellow southpaw starter himself during his career.

“He was he was so fun to watch. He was just so in control, you knew he was gonna go deep in the game,” Rowland-Smith said. “He has multiple weapons, one of the lowest batting average on balls in play as well as the strikeout numbers. It’s just a complete package… I love the move.”

There is a tough question to be asked, though. Should there be any worry that Ray’s 2021 could turn out to be an aberration? Rowland-Smith is optimistic that won’t be the case, and he sees a likely added bonus the Mariners’ group of young starters will get from being around Ray.

“As far as having one good year or whatever, you go back, there’s been flashes there brewing, there’s been some streaks where he’s been really good,” Rowland-Smith said. “And this year, every time he went out he just got better and better as the year went on. And then on top of that, you add in the velocity, everything he’s talked about the preparation he did in between starts. All these little things will rub off so well on some of the younger players coming up.”

You can hear Rowland-Smith’s full discussion with Jake Heaps and guest host Curtis Rogers at this link or in the player below.

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