Adjustments made, Raleigh 'ready to go'; Flexen debuts

March 21st, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The 2021 season marked 's first taste of big league action. But it also featured something he was unaccustomed to: a lack of offensive production.

“I came up last year and I was overthinking too many things, the normal things that people do,” Raleigh said before Sunday's 7-3 Spring Training loss to the Angels at Peoria Stadium. “I’ve really simplified everything and gotten into attack mode; I’m ready to go when I get to the plate. I think just that mindset of being one-on-one versus the pitcher, I’m taking that into the game.”

Raleigh clobbered the ball in 44 games at Triple-A Tacoma last year. But just roughly 35 miles north, the same swing that produced a .985 OPS in Tacoma was flummoxed by its first taste of Major League pitching. While he delivered an xBA below .200 against fastballs, breaking pitches and changeups, there remains reason for optimism: his barrel rate sat at 6.8% and he produced a SwSp% of 37.5, both of which rank as above league average.

Faced with a roadblock, the switch-hitting Raleigh went back to work. Equipped with a refined approach, he is now holding his hands higher and giving himself a wider stance.  

“The biggest thing with Cal … when you’re late to get going, that’s when you start chasing a lot,” manager Scott Servais said. “You get late, you’ve got to hurry up to get to the fastball; now they throw the offspeed pitch, you’re way out in front and your swing decisions aren’t good. Getting him going a little bit earlier with his timing, I like what I’ve seen so far in camp.”

Raleigh’s first Cactus League appearance came Saturday during a Mariners win. He drew a walk in his first at-bat before depositing an elevated pitch down the right-field line for an RBI double. Those two trips to the dish drew praise from Servais, who cited the backstop’s increased patience at the plate. That eye was on display again in Sunday’s game with the Angels, when Raleigh drew another walk while serving as the designated hitter.

Raleigh is part of a catchers corps -- alongside Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens -- full of competition during camp. Putting down the signs is a unique position, in the sense that its primary responsibilities lie with the glove, rather than the bat.

“Catching is not an easy position. If it was easy, everybody would do it,” Raleigh said. “I love doing it, and I’ll just continue to grow and work with these pitchers and earn their trust and that’s number one.

“Catching comes first, everybody knows that. The hitting side of it, that’s kind of its own part -- you've got to compartmentalize that.”

Despite appearing in just 47 games with Seattle last year, Raleigh was able to post two Catcher Framing Runs on called strikes, making him just one of 23 backstops in the Majors to reach that mark.

“I’m thankful I got that opportunity to be around … the last couple of weeks [in 2021],” Raleigh said. “It stinks that it didn’t work out last year, but I think it’s going to make me stronger and better in the long run, and that’s how you've got to look at it.”

Flexen’s first spring foray
The Mariners unearthed a vital rotation cog last season in the form of . After delivering a 3.61 ERA across 31 starts, Flexen enters his second season with Seattle firmly entrenched among the starting rotation, a complete 180-degree turn from how he began 2021.

The 27-year-old made his first start of the spring Sunday and racked up four strikeouts across three innings, allowing one run on two hits.

After not throwing any cutters during his lone prep session, Flexen added it to the mix in his first Cactus League showing. He relied on the cutter 29.4% of the time last year, far and away more prevalent than his first three years with the Mets from 2017-19.

“All of his pitchers were working, and he had really good command,” Servais said of Flexen's debut on Sunday.

True closer by committee
Barring a late -- and significant -- acquisition, the Mariners will enter 2022 without a clear, defined closer. That, according to Servais, is by design.

“We’ll have a number of guys who will finish off games for us,” the skipper said.

One of those guys in the mix figures to be right-hander Ken Giles, who has not yet appeared in a regular-season game for Seattle since signing a two-year pact last offseason. Giles is working his way back from Tommy John surgery during camp and has ramped up his fastball as high as 95 mph in recent live batting practice sessions.

He is nearing his Cactus League debut and figures to play a prominent role out of relief for the Mariners, irrespective of any designated role.