Ray returns to Cy form with 1st scoreless Seattle start

June 13th, 2022

SEATTLE -- Mariners fans have been waiting for this year’s team to take off. They’ve also been waiting for Robbie Ray to help lift their wings.

Ray, like his team, has been inconsistent for perplexing reasons. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, the club’s prized offseason free-agent acquisition, has been just a tick off, like the rest of the Mariners.

But in Sunday’s 2-0 loss to the Red Sox in front of a sellout crowd of 42,900 at T-Mobile Park, the real Robbie Ray emerged once again.

Yes, Seattle lost the game, getting one-hit by six Boston pitchers and falling on an opposite-field two-run home run by Rafael Devers against reliever Paul Sewald in the eighth inning. And yes, that means the Mariners lost a series after having won four in a row.

But the big picture is clear: Seattle signed Ray to a five-year, $115 million contract to be its ace, and that is precisely what he looked like Sunday. He pitched seven scoreless innings, gave up three hits, walked only one batter, struck out four and looked in command all game.

“I thought Robbie Ray was right on top of his game,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “You really couldn't ask for much more from him, and certainly, hopefully, that gets him going back in the right direction. Outstanding outing by him.”

Ray opened the game with three consecutive swinging strikeouts of Rob Refsnyder, Devers and J.D. Martinez. Already he had matched his strikeout total from his previous start, a five-inning effort in Houston last Monday.

After that, Ray was largely in cruise control. Xander Bogaerts’ leadoff double in the second was a well-placed bouncer at 76.8 mph off the bat that got by third baseman Abraham Toro. According to Statcast, that hit is expected to be an out 92 percent of the time.

Boston’s second hit off Ray, in the fourth, was a pop fly into shallow right field with an exit velocity of 67.2 mph that Seattle first baseman Ty France tried to catch over his shoulder and couldn't. That double should be an out 91 percent of the time, per Statcast.

And the third and final hit off Ray, in the seventh, was a blooper off the bat of Alex Verdugo at 71.5 mph that just happened to sail over shortstop J.P. Crawford’s head, far too shallow for Julio Rodríguez to catch up to.

Ray, using a two-seam fastball that is becoming a more featured part of his repertoire, induced 10 groundouts. As for the walks that have plagued him early in the season, there was only one Sunday. Bogaerts worked a free pass to lead off the seventh, but Ray got out of that jam by getting Bobby Dalbec to bounce into an inning-ending 4-3 double play. Ray hit a batter, but other than that, he was as clean as he’s been all year.

It was the first time Ray had gone seven innings since his Opening Day victory over the Twins in Minnesota. It was the first time he’s had fewer hits allowed than innings pitched in a start since May 20. And it was his first scoreless outing in a Mariners uniform.

“I just kept them on their heels the whole time,” Ray said. “They weren't really able to square anything up today because I was mixing it up so much and giving them different looks.”

Unfortunately for Ray, Boston’s pitchers matched him inning for inning. Spot starter Kutter Crawford missed a lot of bats, giving up only one hit in five innings while striking out seven and escaping four walks. Then, relievers Ryan Brasier, Austin Davis and Tyler Danish held the Mariners at bay until Devers delivered for the Red Sox in the eighth.

Sewald, meanwhile, couldn’t quite escape that pivotal frame after striking out the first two batters. He hit Refsnyder with a pitch, then watched as Devers hammered an 0-2 fastball over the left-field wall. Sewald gave up a go-ahead homer to Dalbec in Saturday's ninth inning, but Seattle came back to win that game. There was no such luck on Sunday.

Speaking of bad luck, take France’s 101.7 mph liner deep into the gap in right-center field with one out in the eighth against Red Sox reliever John Schreiber. It looked like the Mariners might get a late rally started, until Refsnyder ran it down and dove to catch it in a play that is sure to make all the highlight reels. Boston righty Tanner Houck then closed the door on Seattle with a 1-2-3 ninth.

“It was a hard-fought series, and we were right in every game,” Servais said. “Just back and forth. Two really good teams, and they got some bigger hits in this series than we did.”