Raleigh sits, getting in 'better position to hit'

September 8th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Cal Raleigh was mic’d up for Wednesday’s series finale at Minute Maid Park, which aired exclusively on YouTube. But most of his commentary came while he was in the dugout, where he was out of the lineup for the second straight game amid a hitless streak that he extended to 21 plate appearances after he came off the bench in the seventh inning.

Raleigh fanned looking in a 2-2 count against All-Star closer Ryan Pressly during the eighth inning in the Mariners’ 8-5 win on Wednesday -- another frustrating sequence, but one that manager Scott Servais indicated the rookie catcher can build on.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t want to get hits,” Raleigh said. “I’m anxious. I want to do good for this team, especially right now when we’re in the hunt for this playoff push. I want to do all I can and obviously, getting off to a slow start, I want to do [better] even more, but I have to realize that I need to have good at-bats first, focus on my approach, take the walks, move a runner, do the little things first before the hits start coming, whatever it may be. I’ve just got to focus on that and get in a better position to hit.”

The power-hitting catcher, who recently graduated as the Mariners’ No. 6 prospect, is going through the labors of learning how to hit elite big league pitching, and some of his struggles have admittedly become more exacerbated as the drought of results have extended, and he finds himself pressing for a team in the postseason hunt.

Specifically, Raleigh has found himself out of the strike zone too regularly. He’s swung at 43.6% of the out-of-zone pitches he’s seen since making his debut on July 11, which is tied for the sixth highest rate in baseball among 447 qualified hitters. As such, he’s hit .156/.205/.248 (.453 OPS) in 36 big league games, with 42 strikeouts in 117 plate appearances, a 35.9% rate.

That’s a hugely far cry from the type of hitter he was in the Minors, where he was touted for improvements with his strike-zone awareness, with just 25 punchouts in 199 plate appearances for a rate of 12.5% -- a big decline from his career 23% rate to that point.

But the Mariners are confident that many of Raleigh’s offensive issues are fixable. After all, strikeouts usually are with the proper adjustments, and Raleigh was head-and-shoulders the best hitter at Triple-A Tacoma, where he hit .324/.377/.608 (.985 OPS) before his callup.

“He's been very aggressive, swinging at a lot of different pitches that he typically doesn't swing at,” Servais said. “And often times, that happens when guys are searching for hits and searching for the end result versus kind of staying with some kind of process, and that for me is controlling the strike zone, understanding the pitches that he handles best. And then wait it out until you get a ball in that area where you can do some damage and get your best swing off.”

One consistent positive is that Raleigh has drawn praise from Servais -- an 11-year big league catcher -- and the veteran starting pitchers on the staff for his strides in game calling, framing and just about every other skill behind the dish. But he’d like to finish the final month with his bat catching up to his glove.

“That’s the most important part,” Raleigh said. “Whatever I do with bat comes second. Catching is the main priority. We’ve got to take care of the pitchers. You’ve got to call a good game. You’ve got to be prepared. You’ve got to know [opposing] hitters like the back of your hand. You’ve got to know what your pitcher wants to do, who's on deck, what the situation is. There's a lot of things, and so that takes priority.”

The switch-hitting slugger should be back in the lineup when the Mariners return home on Friday against Arizona, Servais said, which would mark three straight off-days for him to rest and focus on the adjustments he’s attempting to install.

“I'm not hitting the panic button,” Raleigh said. “I'm not freaking out. I want to be doing well, but it is what it is, and it's only going to make me better in the long run. So I feel like I’m getting better and am trying to gear up for a really good last month.”