Mariners’ Dipoto: What Robbie Ray and his newest pitch can do in ’23

Feb 16, 2023, 1:21 PM
Mariners Robbie Ray...
Robbie Ray pitches against the Oakland Athletics at RingCentral Coliseum on June 23, 2022. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The 2023 Mariners season means a lot of things, but it also means Year 2 for a number of intriguing pitchers.

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In addition to this season being the second MLB season for standout starter George Kirby and exciting young reliever Matt Brash, 2023 is the second year that 2021 Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray will be in Seattle.

During Thursday’s Jerry Dipoto Show on Seattle Sports, the Mariners president of baseball operations shared some insight on the pitching staff, including Ray and Brash. We’ll cover what Dipoto had to say about Brash in another post on, but there was an exciting news drop regarding Ray and another M’s starting pitcher that we’ll focus on here.

Ray has a new pitch and more in 2023

Ray, 31, came to the Mariners as a two-pitch guy, armed with a high-end four-seam fastball and a hard, wipeout slider. That pair of pitches helped Ray win the Cy Young Award with Toronto as well as put together one of the highest strikeouts-per-nine clips in MLB history.

With Seattle in 2022, though, Ray had some early-season struggles, so he tinkered with an additional pitch: a two-seam fastball that played a lot like a sinker.

While Ray had some success with that pitch, Dipoto shared that Ray worked on a new option this offseason as a go-to third offering: a split-fingered fastball.

“I know he’s been working on a new pitch. He came to camp and he’s working on a split, as is Logan Gilbert,” Dipoto said. “And both of them, I will say – (I’ve seen) Logan’s on film and Robbie’s live – both of them look like they’ve put in the work on it. They’re good-looking pitches while still in the development stage.”

Oftentimes, a pitcher will utilize a changeup or splitter as a way to get opposite-handed batters out. In Ray’s case, the splitter may be used to help the lefty against right-handed hitters.

Just before Dipoto joined Brock & Salk on Thursday, Ray called into the show from M’s spring training in Arizona for an interview and told the hosts that he thinks he’s a different pitcher every single year.

Dipoto thinks the addition of the splitter backs up what Ray talked about.

“You’re constantly recreating yourself, you’re constantly making adjustments, you’re adapting to the league, you’re adapting to how your body ages,” Dipoto said.

Last season was a “down” year for Ray stats-wise after a Cy Young season in 2021, but he still put up solid numbers with a 3.71 ERA and 212 strikeouts in 189 innings across 32 starts.

Ray had some rough stretches early and an excellent stretch in the summer, but his season ended in rough fashion as he allowed four runs in just three innings against Toronto in the Wild Card playoff series, then, as a reliever, allowed a walkoff home run to the Astros’ Yordan Álvarez in Game 1 of the ALDS.

Dipoto said he’s regularly been asked about Ray bouncing back from that moment and putting together a strong 2023 season. Simply put, Dipoto thinks Ray has the background to show he’s a mentally tough competitor.

“My takeaway is that Robbie Ray has been through more in his Major League Baseball career than most players are ever going to go through,” Dipoto said.

Ray struggled initially as a pro before settling in, and his control greatly declined in the shortened 2020 season and he wound up being traded from Arizona to Toronto.

That move ultimately paid dividends for Ray, who won the Cy Young in 2021 and then signed a lucrative five-year deal with Seattle the next offseason.

“To get to the point where you are a status veteran in this league is very hard to do,” Dipoto said. “And to do it while having achieved the high highs of winning a Cy Young and pitching in postseasons and then the low lows – Robbie’s had some some years that weren’t as glorious and some moments like we saw at the very end of last year, and that’s part of it.”

Having those ups and downs makes Ray someone that every player on the Mariners can approach.

“It’s not just our pitchers. The players, (everyone), he is that guy in a clubhouse that they can go to, and they know whatever they’re going through, he’s been through it,” Dipoto said. “That’s such a thing in a clubhouse that is so valuable to have, and now we’ve got a handful of guys that have been down that road. And that’s the thing I really appreciate about Robbie.”

As for 2023 specifically, Dipoto shared his expectations for the veteran southpaw.

“I think he’s always going to pitch like a power pitcher. You’re not going to see Robbie Ray morph into the touch-feel guy at this stage in his career. He’s got power pitches, he needs to pitch like a power pitcher,” he said. “And when we saw him at his best a year ago, that’s what he was doing. And just looking at the way he walked through that door, the shape he’s in and the focus he had this offseason, he took it seriously. He went home, he got in great shape and he came back, and his stuff, it’s alive. I think you’re gonna see Robbie Ray, power pitcher, which is primarily what you saw last year. And everybody takes away one moment, but he was pretty (darn) good the rest of it.”

Listen to the whole Jerry Dipoto Show at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

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