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Robbie Ray Update: Doing Better Than Before

Robbie Ray steps off the mound
Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Welcome to Robbie Ray Update, your one-stop shop for all news about Mariners starting pitcher Robbie Ray, brought to you by the internet's No. 1 source for all Ray-related news and information, Defector dot com.

Fresh off winning the 2021 Cy Young award and leading the Blue Jays' rotation, Robbie Ray made a big offseason move to the Seattle Mariners, signing a five-year, $115 million deal. It is always fun when your team signs someone who struck out 248 guys in 193 innings the previous year, but throwing that kind of money at a 30-year-old coming off a real outlier of a career season is always a little bit nerve-wracking. Ray had been an All-Star in Arizona, and has always had dominant stuff, but he has not always commanded it and lost the strike zone entirely in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The fear of regression always looms!

Through Ray's first 10 starts of the season, it looked like such fears were coming true. He got knocked around a bit in April, posting a 4.15 ERA in five starts while striking out just 7.7 batters per nine innings. May was worse: Ray started five more games and got lit up to the tune of a 5.34 ERA. Things reached a low point on June 1, when Ray was chased from a game against the Orioles after allowing four runs in five innings. Ray hurled his glove down the dugout steps as he left the field that night, and the question that had hung over his season began to materialize in a more urgent way: What's wrong with Robbie Ray?

An astute observer could have answered, Basically nothing, and been mostly correct. Even while Ray was failing to get into the sixth inning against the Orioles, there were signs indicating that a turnaround was on the horizon. For one thing, Ray was still getting plenty of strikeouts—at the end of May he had 68 Ks in 60.2 innings—and his xFIP remained well below his ERA. More than anything, Ray was a victim of bad timing, in that he was continually pitching himself out of games by giving up homers at the worst possible moment and letting things get away from him one bad inning at a time. Ray made eight starts between April 30 and June 6, and in each of those games he surrendered every run he gave up during one single inning.

So maybe Ray was onto something after that June 1 start against the Orioles when he told reporters that his "stuff was good" and that there were just "some things that didn't go his way." This is just what pitchers say, sometimes, but Ray also sounded like a man who knew things were about to get better:

“I just have to trust the process, go about my business every single day like I do and things are gonna turn,” he said. “This was my 11th start, so I’ve probably got at least 20 to 22 left. That’s two-thirds of the year. I mean I’ve got plenty of time.”

Seattle Times

And look who has been proven correct! In his last six starts Ray has posted a 0.91 ERA and struck out 46 batters in 39.2 innings. On July 3 he struck out 12 A's in a 2-1 victory, and then on July 9 he went head-to-head with his former team's current ace, Alek Manoah, and pitched six strong innings on his way to another 2-1 victory.

Look at Robbie Ray's numbers now—a 3.51 ERA with 123 strikeouts in 110.1 innings—and you'd never know that he got off to such a rough start. He's probably not going to repeat as the Cy Young winner, but he looks a hell of lot like an ace, which is exactly what the Mariners paid for.

So that's what's going on with Robbie Ray. This has been the Robbie Ray Update.

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