Servais: Robbie Ray perfect example of what Mariners preach to pitchers

Apr 5, 2022, 2:46 PM | Updated: 3:33 pm
Mariners Robbie Ray...
Robbie Ray pitches for the Mariners in a March 22 spring training game vs. the Cubs. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Mariners have already gotten a glimpse this spring of what new pitcher Robbie Ray can do for their team, and that’s not just because the 2021 American League Cy Young Award winner stuck out 17 batters in his 13 2/3 innings of Cactus League play.

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The 30-year-old Ray signed a five-year contract worth a reported $115 million with Seattle this offseason, and not only was joining a team on the rise part of the appeal for Ray, but Mariners manager Scott Servais said Ray is walking the walk by jumping at the chance to be a leader for the younger pitchers of the organization.

“I think we had a pretty good feeling getting a chance to know (him) going through the recruiting process, then the free agency period,” Servais told Seattle Sports Station’s Wyman and Bob last week, “understanding what he wanted to bring to our ball club other than just performing on the mound every fifth day. He wanted to really be part of something, seeing it grow, seeing young players get better, and give back to young players.”

Ray had his own positive experience when he broke into the big leagues in 2014 with Detroit, which happened shortly after he came to the Tigers as part of a trade that sent former Mariners pitcher Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals. In hindsight, it’s easy to see how his rookie season proved to be valuable from that standpoint. The Tigers won the American League Central thanks to a loaded pitching staff that featured five pitchers who had already or eventually would win a Cy Young – Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, Rick Porcello, and now Ray. Detroit also had veteran Aníbal Sánchez, the 2013 AL ERA leader, in that rotation.

“When (Ray) first started out, he was around Max Scherzer and David Price, a few of these guys over in Detroit, and he thought it really benefited him, and he wants to give back,” Servais said.

While Ray learned a lot from his one year with the Tigers, it’s the path to dominance that he forged on his own that Servais said will be even more important for Seattle’s younger pitchers. Though Ray became an All-Star with Arizona, who traded for him after the 2014 season, he had his worst season in 2020 and landed with the Toronto Blue Jays in need of a change. That’s where he remade himself, relying on his two best pitches – a fastball in the mid-90s and a debilitating slider – on his way to leading the AL last season in ERA (2.84), WHIP (1.045), strikeouts (248), starts (32) and innings pitched (193 1/3). He was the hands-down Cy Young winner for the league, receiving 29 of the 30 first-place votes.

Having pitchers hone in on their best pitches instead of a more varied repertoire is something the Mariners have started to preach in their system, and having Ray to share his success story is only going to help.

“The beauty of Robbie is it’s like everything that we talk about with our young pitchers, he preaches, he believes in it and he lived it,” Servais said. “So you’re talking about a great example to our young guys. Robbie’s basically a two-pitch pitcher but his whole career he thought he needed to have four pitches to be successful… ‘My two pitches are really elite. Let’s just focus on that,’ and it’s exactly what we try to impress upon our guys throughout our organization.

“If you have one or two really good weapons, let’s just throw those a whole bunch. Focus on what you’re really good at instead of chasing something all the time, so he really does help us send messaging and drive messaging with all of our players.”

You can hear the full conversation with Servais from Wyman and Bob in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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