SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer’s Mariners Notebook: What Randy Johnson taught Robbie Ray

Dec 11, 2021, 10:48 AM
Mariners Robbie Ray Arizona...
Robbie Ray pitches for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the San Francisco Giants on April 6, 2017. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

This week, a baseball-without-baseball adjustment. In place of the Mariners Week That Was on 710 ESPN Seattle podcast, we have the Mariners Week That Was on 710Sports.com. If you missed anything this week, we’ve got you covered. Here on the shores of Eastlake we roll with the changes (and yes, that’s definitely a nod to my central Illinois heritage).

Salk: Mariners’ first two moves exciting step toward offseason they need

So what I have for you this week is a number of breakdowns that we had on the web side of 710 ESPN Seattle, a few news and notes items from the week, a bit from the Talking Mariners podcast, and a cleaning out of the reporter’s notebook that yielded a little Robbie Ray and Hall of Famer story that would be of interest to Mariners fans.

Let’s get to it.

Talking a Mariners-Mitch Haniger extension

If you have followed Talking Mariners the last few years, you have heard James Osborn come full circle on Mitch Haniger. Without rehashing the history, after the 2021 season, at long last, “Boy Howdy” is sold. This winter on the podcast we have been in agreement that a Haniger extension should be on the agenda for the Mariners.

On The Mike Salk Show last week, Salk pointed to some of the reasons why the decision to extend Haniger could be a complicated one for the Mariners. The post by Brandon Gufstason and audio can be found here.

My 2 cents? I think the conversation has to happen regardless of fit. What we are seeing from Haniger, such as his Players’ Tribune article, the recruiting of other players, the taking an active interest in what Jerry Dipoto is trying to do when he could just as easily sit back with his arms crossed and say “show me” is, in two words, taking ownership. Many have argued Dipoto should have traded Haniger at the outset of Seattle’s “step back.” Dipoto easily could have traded him but instead labeled him as a core player and one he wanted to set the example for those who were coming.

At the time it was about the work ethic, the mindset. This year we saw him take an even bigger step forward by doing more than leading by example. Salk points at the need for a center fielder as one of obstacles for keeping Haniger longer term, but what’s to say one of Jarred Kelenic or Julio Rodríguez truly can’t man the position on a daily basis? I think it’s too soon to give up on Kelenic. An opposing scout I talked to rates him as somebody who is not going to win a Gold Glove out there but someone you probably could put out in center. As for Julio, I would expect them to rotate the outfielders in spring training and I am very interested to see him out there.

Of course, Haniger needs to be open to the idea of an extension. If he is, there should be a conversation.

A rumor and roundup

Who’s on third? Good question. At the moment it’s Abraham Toro, but there has been a lot of buzz around Matt Chapman’s name as a trade target and Brent Stecker took a closer look at why in this post.

My 2 cents? It’s also in the post.

Brent also did a roundup of Mariners news and notes from the week that included a Trevor Story update courtesy of MLB reporter Jon Heyman, news of an organizational hire, and a quick look at the Minor League Rule 5 Draft for the Mariners and a trade that happened shortly after, both of which prompted many Twitter questions. The lockout covers only players who are on 40-man rosters and only the majors. Minor league signings and trades are allowed. Furthermore, minor league operations are continuing with offseason camps and programs underway. The regular minor league spring training and schedule will go on regardless of what happens with the CBA negotiations.

Lastly, before we get to the story – not of the Trevor variety – one hour of Mariners talk can be found in this week’s edition of Talking Mariners. James and I have the whos, the whys and the hows of the lockout, and we get into what happened leading up to the deadline and what we expect coming out of the lockout. How will the market be affected and what impact could this have on the Mariners? We know a number of the targets, but what we don’t know is how many could be added. Could we see two additions to the infield? Which infielder is the better fit?

Two Cy Young lefties

You know who should be a great fit with the Mariners? Robbie Ray, who I chatted with after his introductory press conference. One aspect of his addition that I think gets a little overlooked is how he could benefit the young pitching prospects who will come up in the next few years.

There’s no question that young players can and have learned a lot from Marco Gonzales, but Ray will speak the language of the power pitcher and is willing to do so. He is ready to pay it forward after having a Hall of Fame mentor of his own: Mariners Hall of Famer Randy Johnson.

“Randy took interest in me when I was with Arizona. He became kind of like a big brother to me,” Ray said.

After posting a 4.90 ERA in 2016, Ray got off to a rocky start in 2017, but from May 20 to the end of that season had a 2.24 ERA.

“I still remember to this day, he comes into the clubhouse, shuts the radio off and sits next to me,” Ray said, “and basically just verbally, just like a big brother would, gets me in a headlock and says, ‘What are you doing?'”

For those who knew Johnson when he was a Mariner, the sight of him turning off the radio would likely bring back bad memories. Music being turned off in the Kingdome clubhouse would often portend louder things to come. This was a different RJ, however. This headlock was metaphorical, and the message was lasting.

“For me, I needed that, and for a Hall of Famer to go out of his way, take time out of his day and come talk to me and tell me ‘You never know when your last pitch is going to be’ – relaying that message, it was eye opening. I thought to myself, ‘You don’t know.’ I don’t know if this next pitch thrown is going to be my last pitch, so I am going to pitch every game like it’s Game 7 of the World Series. That was his message and I ended up, almost immediately, an All-Star and getting Cy Young votes that year.”

Ray didn’t say exactly when that conversation took place, but prior to May 20 that year, the then 25-year-old had allowed 23 earned runs in 45.1 innings pitched for a 4.57 ERA while throwing 59% strikes. From May 20 to Oct. 1, he threw 64% strikes with opponents hitting just .185 with a .332 slugging against him, leading him to a seventh-place finish in the National League Cy Young Award voting. He has made other changes since, but Johnson remains a friend who he still keeps in contact with.

For his part, Johnson remains a fan, singing his praises to Tyler Kepner of the New York Times when Ray won the Cy Young this year with Toronto.

“He inevitably could be the ace of the staff, a guy you could build the rotation around – I think he’s that kind of pitcher, and it looks like things have clicked,” Johnson said. “Left-handers, maybe we’re a little bit slower developers. I know I was. But he’s really come into his own, and I couldn’t be more happy for him.”

For his part, Ray is ready to pay it forward. He embraces the opportunity to be a leader of the pitching staff.

“For me it’s just letting the young kids be themselves and helping them understand who they are as baseball players and as men. Watching young guys come into their own and realizing who they are is a really, really fun process,” he said, citing his experience with Blue Jays rookie starter Alek Manoah as an example. “This year I was really able to see him come into his own and be himself. That’s my message to young guys: be yourself. You don’t want to suppress those big personalities. You want them to be big personalities.”

The philosophy sounds quite a bit like that of the American League Manager of the Year runner-up, Mariners skipper Scott Servais.

Ray displays traits Dipoto would have chosen for the Mariners, but as it turns out it was Ray who was choosing the Mariners. He liked what he saw in this group, saying they were on the list from day 1.

“I wanted to come here. This is where I wanted to be,” he said.

Not a bad thing to hear up in the Northwest corner.

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