Mariners lose Ray (flexor surgery) for rest of season

April 26th, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- Last week, said his recovery from a left flexor strain was “going really well” and that everything was “definitely encouraging” ahead of an evaluation he was slated to undergo on Monday.

Unfortunately, that consultation revealed that Ray will need to undergo season-ending surgery, Mariners manager Scott Servais said ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Phillies.

“The actual area that he damaged, that [has] been kind of repaired,” Servais said. “That [area] had looked cleaned up. That was fine. But he got some new images, and then he was still having some pain down in the elbow area. So, they took some more images and that's what they found.”

There wasn’t a concrete enough timetable for Servais to say if Ray would be ready by Spring Training.

“He's down,” Servais said of Ray, who’s not with the team. “He loves being a part of what we're doing here and he's a big part of what we're doing. But you won't see him again for 2023. That's a downer.”

The surgery will be performed by Dr. Keith Meister, the director of sports medicine at Arlington-based Texas Metroplex Institute for Sports Medicine and the head team physician for the Rangers.

“Robbie has a relationship with him and his staff, so we’ll just have to wait and see,” Servais said. “I don't know any more details on when that actually is going to happen.”

Ray suffered the injury during his first start of the season on March 31 against the Guardians, when he looked and felt off. He walked five and consistently struggled to locate his fastball while experiencing diminished velocity after throwing harder than any Seattle starter in Spring Training. He was placed on the 15-day injured list the next day, but Ray was encouraged by the initial prognosis, which suggested a four- to six-week recovery.

“I hate putting timelines on things because, I mean, especially this early in the season, I want to make sure that I come back 100 percent ready to go,” Ray said last week, adding that he’d been cleared to begin more intense shoulder workouts to pair with the rigorous lower-body work he’d been maintaining.

Just as challenging as filling Ray's spot will be the void in leadership that the veteran took on after signing a five-year, $115 million deal ahead of last season. Ray genuinely cared about his teammates and took youngsters such as and under his wing.

“Being a really good teammate and having a guy around that we can really lean on, it’s disappointing news there,” Servais said.

Now comes the decision on what to do with Ray’s rotation spot.

The decision to stretch out this spring proved prudent, but he's struggled mightily in four starts filling in, going 0-4 with a 10.38 ERA while being hit to a slash line of .355/.417/.566 (.983 OPS). He’s also struggled to stay ahead in counts, leading to a 10.8% walk rate, and saw notable decline in velocity and spin in his most recent outing on Sunday, which he called “rock bottom.”

Servais didn’t rule out making a change as soon as Saturday in Toronto, when that spot comes up again.

“We're talking about everything right now,” Servais said. “We certainly still like our rotation, but we've got young guys down below that are really interesting prospects.”

The Mariners indeed have promising talent in the pipeline that, if Spring Training is an indicator, showed some arms could help soon. That group includes Bryce Miller (the club's No. 2 prospect and No. 90 overall per MLB Pipeline), Emerson Hancock (No. 4), Bryan Woo (No. 6) and Prelander Berroa (No. 14) at Double-A Arkansas and Taylor Dollard (No. 9) at Triple-A Tacoma.

Miller was probably the closest after opening eyes in camp, with Hancock not far behind. However, both have had a clunker start or two. Woo also wowed, but the Mariners have been deliberate about building his workload because he's only thrown 69 innings since the 2021 Draft due to missing time with Tommy John surgery. Berroa had big moments and seemed more destined for relief, yet the Mariners have kept him as a starter. Dollard is an innings-eater, but his stuff isn’t nearly as dominant as the others and he has a 7.56 ERA in three outings.

“We're kind of working through what's the best course of action for us -- probably more long-term than actual short-term,” Servais said. “Again, a lot of discussions are going on. We'll figure it out going forward.”