New Mariners LHP Robbie Ray on his breakout Cy Young-winning season

Dec 3, 2021, 9:26 AM
Mariners LHP Robbie Ray...
Starting pitcher Robbie Ray of the Toronto Blue Jays throws to a Baltimore Orioles batter in the second inning. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Mariners have a new stud at the top of their rotation as reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray inked a lucrative five-year contract to come to Seattle earlier this week.

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Ray, 30, made the National League All-Star team in 2017 with the Arizona Diamondbacks and has been a steady starter for most of his career, buts he struggled mightily in the shortened 2020 season with the Diamondbacks before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays at that year’s deadline, where he improved but still had some issues.

But after re-signing with the Blue Jays on a one-year deal for the 2021 season, everything clicked for the southpaw as he led the American League in innings (193 1/3), ERA (2.84), starts (32), WHIP (1.045) and strikeouts (248). Those numbers earned him the American League Cy Young Award, which he won handily with 29 of 30 first-place votes.

In his first interview as a member of the Mariners, Ray joined The Mike Salk Show on 710 ESPN Seattle Wednesday morning and talked about what clicked for him in his award-winning season.

Ray is a high strikeout pitcher, having set an MLB record for the most career strikeouts in a pitcher’s first 1,000 innings and owning the highest strikeouts per nine rate (11.2) in MLB history. He said that his mentality overall stayed the same in 2021 as it has during the rest of his career.

“I feel like I’ve always had the mindset of I was gonna go out and attack guys and attack guys,” he said. “And I felt like I had the stuff to do it. But the physical and the mental didn’t match up necessarily as well as I wanted it to.”

Ray said that he spent a lot of time in his career searching and “trying to build and always tweaking a little bit.”

“There was just something missing,” he said. “And it was the consistency with my delivery.”

Ray spent the offseason between the 2020 and 2021 seasons working not just on gaining what he called “good weight,” but on focusing on honing in on his delivery.

“Really focusing on a delivery that was repeatable and that was consistent, that was going to allow me to consistently get to the same spot every single time,” Ray said.

As shown through his stellar 2021 season, mission accomplished.

“That’s what made the difference for me,” he said.

One of the things that Ray did in the 2021 season was turning his upper body a little more at the top of his delivery. He said that it was something he did as a player coming up through the minor leagues that he just gradually got away from over time.

“As I said, I was trying to make those tweaks and changes. You slowly get away from things that you had success with when you’re trying to search and build and get better,” Ray said. “But for me, it was getting back to that and getting back to that turn and feeling strong and feeling like I was driving down the mound and staying closed long enough and really give myself a chance to get the ball out front.”

Ray said that small tweak allowed him to have a more consistent release point.

“Consistent release point is huge,” he said. “Having the same release point on fastball and slider, because those are my two best pitches was key for me.”

Ray has had good years in his career, but 2021 was far and away the best full season he’s put together. How does he plan on maintaining the strides he made now that he’s with the Mariners?

“Just continue the process,” he said. “I think the gains that I made in the offseason, I’m continuing to do that. I’m continuing to get after in the gym, I’m continuing to ingrain that delivery and that turn and everything that I did in the past. I’m just continuing the process.”

Which K feels best?

As noted, Ray is an elite strikeout pitcher, and he mostly utilizes his fastball and slider.

So, Salk asked the lefty what his favorite kind of strikeout is — swinging or looking — and with what pitch?

“Every strikeout feels pretty good,” Ray said, laughing. “But I mean, you get into an 0-2 count or 1-2 and just absolutely bury a guy on a slider when he thinks a fastball is coming, that’s a really good feeling … I think I’m more of a swing miss because it’s like, hey, I got ya.”

Winning the Cy Young

Ray also spoke about what winning the 2021 American League Cy Young Award meant to him.

“To win almost near unanimously, it just even speaks more volumes to the season that I had and it just validates everything that you do,” he said. “… I felt like I did everything I needed to do. I went out and did it. But to have your name called at the end of the year for the Cy Young Award, it just validates like yeah, you did it.”

You can listen to the full conversation between Ray and Salk in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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