Scott Servais Show: Has Mariners’ Robbie Ray unlocked something?

Jun 14, 2022, 2:02 PM | Updated: 4:24 pm

Mariners Robbie Ray...

Mariners pitcher Robbie Ray throws against the Boston Red Sox on Sunday. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

For the first time since Robbie Ray’s Mariners debut in April, the left-hander looked like the pitcher Seattle thought it was getting this year during his outing Sunday.

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Ray, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, threw seven innings of shutout baseball against the Boston Red Sox, allowing just three hits, a walk and a hit batsman while striking out four. Though the Mariners’ offense was shut down in the 2-0 loss, it was Ray’s best start of the season and the first time since opening day on April 6 that he had either lasted seven innings or allowed less than two runs.

In between those two starts, Ray struggled to recapture his success from his award-winning 2021 campaign with the Toronto Blue Jays. He currently is 5-6 with a 4.52 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, and he’s given up 14 home runs in his 13 games. Oddly enough, the way he got on track Sunday wasn’t from replicating what he did last year but actually adding in a new wrinkle.

With the Blue Jays, Ray started to rely almost exclusively on his hard four-seam fastball and devastating slider. The two-pitch repertoire hasn’t worked as well this year, so on Sunday he started breaking out a two-seam fastball with sinking action. In fact, that turned out to be his most-used pitch against Boston – according to Baseball Savant, Ray threw the two-seamer (the website categorized it as a sinker) for 45 of his 98 pitches, or 48%. He also dropped in four knuckle curveballs in addition to 27 four-seamers and 17 sliders.

On Tuesday’s edition of The Scott Servais Show with the Mariners manager on Seattle Sports, Servais explained Ray’s process behind utilizing the two-seamer more.

“He made some adjustments – credit to Robbie that he didn’t just talk about doing it, he went out and worked on it,” Servais said. “He got in a couple of different bullpen sessions before his last outing knowing that he wanted to mix in a few two-seamers. … He was able to use that outer part of the plate to right-handed hitters, which then made stuff on the inside part of the plate – which is kind of his go-to – much more accessible, and (he was) getting the results he’s looking (for) when he does go in there.”

It’s understandable why Ray had become a two-pitch pitcher, but also understandable why it may be time for another evolution.

“He got to the point where he said, ‘You know what, I’m just going to simplify this and really trust my ability,’ and he did,” Servais said. “He was leaning heavily on on a really good four-seam fastball and an outstanding slider, and over time you get locked into just doing it a certain way, and certainly the opponent knows that – how you’re going to attack them. And then in Robbie’s case, he was really only using one half of the plate, the inner half to right-handed hitters, and when they know where to look and if you’re not executing just perfectly or if you get behind in counts, it just makes it so much easier for the hitters to get on you.”

Ray has always relied heavily on strikeouts as he set the MLB record for the most in a pitcher’s first 1,000 career innings last season, but while he struck out the side in the first inning Sunday, he recorded just one more K the rest of the game. That’s fine for Servais, because not only did Ray keep the ball in the ballpark, he mostly kept it out of the air, including on the first double play he had induced since April 24.

“I was excited to see the number of ground balls he got – I think it was 10 or 11 ground balls in that outing the other day, which is not typical of Robbie Ray, and a lot of those ground balls came early in counts,” Servais said. “So it kept his pitch count in check. That’s why he was able to get through seven innings and give us a great outing. Hopefully he can build upon that.”

Expect Ray to continue using his new weapon regularly as a way of doing so.

“I think you’re gonna see it mixed in. He threw probably more two-seam fastballs than I expected them to throw the other day, but it was working, and if it’s working, why not just stick with it?” Servais said. “And that’s what he did, so you’ll see him work that into his repertoire, and it’ll certainly give teams more to think about as they prepare. … As long as he’s executing it, why not stick with it?”

The Scott Servais Show airs at 1 p.m. every Tuesday to kick off The Dugout, an hour of Mariners interviews and analysis on Seattle Sports Station 710 AM. You can listen to this week’s edition at this link or in the player below.

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