SEATTLE -- Cal Raleigh changed his walk-up tune on May 23, a transition from country to Outkast, the Atlanta rap icons who ruled the music scene during his childhood. And in a quirky coincidence, his new song’s title was an apt personification of his heroics during the Mariners’ 8-6 win over Oakland on Thursday night.
Raleigh raced around the bases for a Little League homer during the fifth inning, hitting his first career triple off center fielder Skye Bolt’s glove, then advancing home after second baseman Nick Allen sailed a throw past third base for an error after Raleigh had already slid in. The play sent the crowd at T-Mobile Park on Pride Night into a roaring frenzy and evoked hilarious reactions from his teammates, two of which scored in the sequence.
Julio Rodríguez waved a towel after Raleigh sat down on the dugout bench, implying that the catcher was on fire. It wasn’t just how wild the moment was, but the player who orchestrated it -- the 6-foot-3, 235-pound switch-hitter, who ranks in the 36th percentile in sprint speed, per Statcast, but dialed it up to 26.9 feet per second on the three bagger, lumbering his way around the bases.
“Obviously, it was a big hit,” Raleigh said. “I think it was a one-run game at that point and it put us up four runs, that was huge. And obviously it was just a cool moment. It was fun. Honestly, I felt like I was playing Little League again.”
Said manager Scott Servais, “As big as he is, he runs OK once he gets going.”
Raleigh again went for extra bases in the eighth with a double near the right-field corner, a ball that landed in territory that might’ve positioned him for a rare two-triple game, which would match his total for his entire Minor League career. But he joked that he didn’t quite have the juice to finish it off.
“I didn’t see the ball at first, so I kind of got a slow start out of the box,” Raleigh said. “Then by the time I got to second, I was gassed. I should’ve tried to do it. Why not?”
Raleigh’s contributions came on a night where the Mariners felt another repercussion from their benches-clearing fight in Anaheim last weekend, as shortstop J.P. Crawford began his suspension after filing an appeal. Jesse Winker will follow, and Rodríguez, too, if his appeal is not overturned. That puts even more onus on other hitters, but especially Raleigh, given how strong of a run he’s on.
In 30 games dating back to May 23 -- coincidentally, the day he changed his walkup song -- Raleigh is hitting .250/.319/.560 (.879 OPS), way up from the .087/.208/.283 (.490 OPS) slash line he had in his first 19 games of 2022, part of which led to a Minor League demotion in late April. But with a season-ending injury to Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens on the 10-day IL, and when healthy, not showing nearly as much consistency as last year, the starting gig has firmly become Raleigh’s.
Raleigh started all three games in the Mariners’ series against Baltimore, including Wednesday’s matinee, which was another sign for how much Seattle needs him right now. Typically, catchers don’t start day games the morning after playing a night game, but with Luis Torrens suffering from left shoulder inflammation sustained in Sunday’s fight, their only other option is Andrew Knapp, who has a .432 OPS in 73 games the past two seasons and was signed to a Minor League contract on May 21, and then selected from Triple-A Tacoma when Torrens was shelved on Monday.
Knapp will start as soon as Friday, per Servais, and see some sparing time while Torrens recovers. Servais, an 11-year big league backstop, is balancing the need for Raleigh and the wear-and-tear of catching as the season isn’t even half over. Servais opted not to use Raleigh as the DH for Sunday’s day game, in order to allocate him a full off-day, and he said that Raleigh will likely sit on Friday for that very reason.
“You can't plan it, so to speak. You don't know when young guys are going to figure it out,” Servais said. “If you just continue to give them opportunities and coach them up, talk to them, listen to them. And I think that's what we've done with a lot of our guys. I couldn't be any happier for him. He's played a ton.”
No, the new walkup tune isn’t the cause for Raleigh’s rise, though it is a fun coincidence. The true factors have been a combination of being better on time for fastballs, which has helped him see breaking balls better -- such as the slider he dug out for the triple -- as well as shortening his swing and not selling out as much for power.
But perhaps the biggest of all, especially after a tough rookie season, is confidence.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted -- I want to be the starting catcher for a big league team,” Raleigh said. “And I’m getting a chance to do that right now, and it’s everything I’ve hoped for. I love it.”