Ray flirts with no-no, settles for 10-K gem

June 18th, 2022

SEATTLE -- In what seemed like a gut-wrenching, deflating and disheartening way to lose a no-hitter, by his own hand no less, Robbie Ray couldn’t help but smile.

The Mariners’ ace was seven outs shy of going the distance when a chopping comebacker from Max Stassi bounced directly in front of the plate and toward the mound, sailed into the netting of Ray’s glove as he gently lunged upward to corral it in, and skirted swiftly out as he gracefully landed ready to field the out. As the ball squirmed onto the infield grass, Ray dropped into a crouch in a personification of the oh-so-close sequence.

Shortly after Max Stassi raced to first base, the official scorer ruled it a hit a hit, irking the 37,500 on hand into a disappointed roar. But by that point, Ray was grinning from ear to ear. Sometimes, baseball -- in the most fundamental fashion -- doesn’t roll your way.

Friday night’s 8-1 win over the Angels won’t go in the history books, but it’ll be a night that Ray won’t forget for some time.

“I think because I’m the one who caused it,” Ray, again smiling, said of his reaction. “And it was just such an easy play. It was just funny, that's how it ended. I mean, it was still a great outing. I felt like I had everything going for me, so it was really good.

He tied a season high with 10 strikeouts, retired 18 in a row at one point and gave up just two additional hits, both in the eighth inning, after which he was pulled at 102 pitches. When Seattle’s prized offseason acquisition walked off the mound to a roaring ovation, it was a moment that the Mariners’ front office had long envisioned after inking him to a five-year, $115 million deal in December to be their “lead dog.”

“The fans here are great, and to see the support that they had for me and what I was able to do tonight, it was cool,” Ray said.

Ray continues to reap the benefits of adding a new pitch to his arsenal, a two-seam fastball that he began throwing when his outing last week in Houston was spiraling. After turning to the pitch between the second and third innings in that eventual win, he threw 17 consecutive scoreless innings before allowing one earned run in the eighth on Friday.

The two-seamer’s movement away from his left-handed release point has helped him widen the plate, find strikes to his arm side, work back into counts when he falls behind and more seamlessly bridge to his four-seamer and slider when he gets to two strikes. He threw the two-seamer 49 times over his 102 pitches but only used it for three of his 10 strikeouts.

More illuminating, he’s walked just three of the 63 batters he’s faced since installing the two-seamer, a 4.8 percent rate, compared to the 9.1 percent rate he had prior. That was a big factor in allowing him to pitch so deep on Friday

“I feel like the two-seam has actually helped me out a ton with that,” Ray said. “Because when I fall behind in counts, I feel like I'm able to get a ground ball and I'm still in the at-bat. So yeah, I think that's kind of helped out, having that pitch, just something where, you get to 2-1, 3-1 on a guy, throw two-seam, get him to roll over. That's kind of helped me out a lot.

Beyond Ray, Friday’s collective showing was emblematic of precisely the type of game that the Mariners had constructed their roster and tailored their gameplanning for, featuring consistent run production, aggressive baserunning and their ace throwing up zeros.

The Mariners, and particularly Julio Rodríguez, were all over Michael Lorenzen early. The early AL Rookie of the Year favorite got things going in the first inning by extending a single for two bases on an error by the left fielder, advancing to third on a wild pitch and then scoring easily on an RBI knock from Eugenio Suárez.

Then in the fourth, it was Ty France clearing the bases with a three-run double into the left-field corner that gave Ray a seven-run cushion. France had his first off-day in the series opener on Thursday, which he said pregame allowed him a needed mental reset along with the physical rest after landing awkwardly while diving in the field on Wednesday.

France and Rodríguez have been the key cogs in the lineup’s engine, but the club has lacked consistent run production from the rest of its bats. Yet Jesse Winker, Adam Frazier and Justin Upton -- who left after being hit by a pitch -- were the only starters who didn’t drive in a run on Friday.

“This is the way it was supposed to be,” Servais said. “But certainly, it doesn't always work out the way it's supposed to work out on paper. ... You're going to go through some rough times and hopefully, today was a stepping stone to kind of turn it around offensively for us.”