SEATTLE MARINERS

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.

Robbie Ray: Mitch Haniger helped sell me on joining Mariners

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.

Robbie Ray shares the story of his tight pants, why he joined Mariners

Mike Salk

Seattle Mariners

Mariners OF Kyle Lewis...
Brandon Gustafson

Can Kyle Lewis and Evan White contribute to the Mariners in 2022?

Baseball America's Kyle Glaser joined Jake & Stacy and discussed what the Mariners can likely get from Kyle Lewis and Evan White next season.
2 days ago
Mariners Jarred Kelenic...
Brandon Gustafson

‘No reason to panic’ after Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic’s rocky debut

Jarred Kelenic struggled in his first taste of MLB action, but Baseball America's Kyle Glaser says not to worry about the young Mariners OF.
3 days ago
Mariners...
Shannon Drayer

Mitch Haniger sees Mariners getting closer to his World Series goal

Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger joined 710 ESPN Seattle's Wyman and Bob and sounds hungrier than ever after the 90-win 2021 season and two big M's moves this offseason.
4 days ago
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
Shannon Drayer

Drayer: 3 Mariners in top 20 in new Baseball America prospect rankings

Once again, the Mariners have five players in the first Baseball America top 100 rankings of the year. And they're mostly high on the list, too.
5 days ago
mariners general...
Shannon Drayer

Drayer: Mariners announce 3 international signings to farm system

With MLB's international signing period opening Saturday, the Mariners finally officially announced the three newest Mariners on Tuesday.
6 days ago
Mariners T-Mobile Park opening day...
Shannon Drayer

Mariners Hot Stove returns to Tuesday nights on 710 ESPN Seattle

Baseball might be locked out, but we are not. The Mariners Hot Stove returns to 710 ESPN Seattle's airwaves from 7-8 p.m. Tuesday night.
6 days ago
New Mariners LHP Robbie Ray on his breakout Cy Young-winning season