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ESPN’s Passan: How concerning flexor injury to Mariners’ Robbie Ray is

Apr 4, 2023, 12:13 PM | Updated: 1:34 pm

Mariners Robbie Ray...

Mariners pitcher Robbie Ray reacts after being taken out of a game against Cleveland on March 31, 2023. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners’ 1-4 start isn’t the only troubling development from the early going of their season. Perhaps even more worrisome is the fact that Robbie Ray, the 2021 American League Cy Young Award winner, landed on the injured list Saturday following a poor showing Friday night in his first start of the year.

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Ray’s velocity was down from what he showed in spring training as he lasted just 3 1/3 innings in a 9-4 Mariners loss to Guardians, allowing five runs (three earned) on four hits and five walks while striking out three. The following day, Seattle placed him on the 15-day IL with a Grade 1 flexor strain.

On Tuesday afternoon, Mariners general manager Justin Hollander told Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy that the team expects Ray to miss about six weeks.

ESPN MLB reporter Jeff Passan joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Tuesday morning, and he’s one of the better people in the game to talk to about arm injuries considering he wrote the book “The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports.” Passan shared his read on Ray and injuries like the one he is dealing with, first by giving an explanation of what a flexor strain means for a pitcher.

“The way that the elbow operates is that when you throw a baseball and pronate through – which means if you watch every time guys throw baseballs, even when you’re throwing curveballs, sliders, your thumb ends up going down on your pitching hand,” Passan explained. “And when your thumb is going down, your hand is pronating or turning through the ball. And when you pronate properly, there’s a mass of of muscles in your forearm called the flexor mass that takes the brunt of the stress and the strain so it doesn’t rip your elbow apart considering how fast your arm is moving. When your flexor mass gets strained, when one of the muscles in there or the tendon has a slight tear in it, that tends to portend something worse.”

The big worry, as Passan said, is that flexor injuries usually precede ulnar collateral ligament tears in the elbow, which are the injuries that are repaired by Tommy John surgery, something that typically takes over a year for a pitcher to recover from.

That doesn’t mean Ray is doomed to eventually need a Tommy John procedure, though.

“Now, Robbie Ray is not there at this point, and flexor issues quite often do resolve without any further incident,” Passan said, “but it’s something that you can’t just look at and say, ‘Hey, you know, he’s gonna shake it off and come right back.’ Like, it’s gonna be a little while. And you’re always nervous that there’s something fundamental there, whether it’s in his delivery or otherwise, that caused this issue in the first place that is eventually going to cause something worse.”

Ray, a 31-year-old left-hander, has generally stayed healthy throughout his 10 years as a big leaguer. He has made at least 30 starts in a season four times in his career, including each of the last three full MLB seasons. That can be seen as both good news and bad news.

“I look at Robbie Ray throughout the course of his career, and one thing generally he’s done, the guy posts,” Passan said. “The guy throws innings, and I’ve never seen him as as an enormous injury risk. He tends to be a guy who makes the large complement of his starts, and he always has been. He puts up innings, so this is a little bit out of character. That to me is the more concerning part than the actual injury itself, the fact that this guy who’s out there almost every start for his whole career suddenly is getting shut down for something.”

Passan joins Brock and Salk at 8:30 a.m. each Tuesday live on Seattle Sports during the baseball season. Listen to this week’s conversation in the podcast below.

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ESPN’s Passan: How concerning flexor injury to Mariners’ Robbie Ray is