No. 1 start?
The start of the shutdown?
Mariners head of baseball operations, Jerry DePoto, had a slightly different description when he introduced Robbie Ray to local media assembled for the introductory press conference at T-Mobile Park Wednesday morning.
“This is a great day for sailors,” said Dipto, smiling and cheerfully in a navy and navy blue plaid suit coat. “As you all know from our description of what we’ve been trying to achieve in this season, that pretty much aligns with our goals – to get the lead dog to start a rotation that we think has a chance to come out and be one of the best players in the league.”
Ray, the reigning US Cy Young award winner, joins a rotating, er, package that Diputo has described as the best since he was with the Mariners, and which includes fellow left-hander Marco Gonzalez, right-hander Chris Flexen and Logan Gilbert with fifth to be determined.
“Signing a Cy Young Award winner is a rare occurrence,” Diputo said. “I think this is the ninth time this has happened in history. So more than 130 awards have been handed out from Cy Young. Robbie had a dominant season this year in 2021, leading the league in just about everything you can lead the league in. He brings us An element in the attacking ability that he has always shown as a key player. It’s crucial to the staff who have generally been more impulsive towards contact and throwing strikes.”
Whatever label you want to call him, Ray embraces this role of responsibility. He made it clear to Director Scott Service.
He said, “I want to be the reliable man.” “I said I wanted to be the guy who could let him go out there for 7-8 rounds every night and just know he can trust me and we can build this relationship together. So I want to be that guy. I want to be the guy who leads the league in profits. Every year. This is the man I feel like this. I feel that way this year, the last year I held that. So I welcome that.”
Ray, accompanied by his wife Taylor, wore the Mariners’ crisp No. 38 jersey at the press conference shortly after signing a five-year, $115 million contract that also includes a no-participation clause after three seasons.
“Watching the last series shown here, popping up the fan base, talking to Jerry and Justin (Hollander) and the ownership, seeing the vision and direction of this team and the way it’s been going, man, I just want to say the excitement with this organization,” Ray said. And this city. This team, the city is thirsty for the world championship and I wanted to be a part of it and give it back, bring it here.”
Ray, who turned 30 on October 1, set a 13-7 record with a 2.84 ERA in 32 starts. In 193 innings 1/3, he made 248 strikes with 52 walks only using 1,045 WHIP (walks plus hits on turns). His 32 starts tied with most of them in AL while leading the league in innings, ERA, batting, and WHIP.
He missed out on being unanimously selected for the Cy Young Award, receiving 29 out of 30 votes in first place with Gerrit Cole receiving the other vote.
“We have always focused on controlling the strike zone,” Dipoto said. “And I think that was the key element for Robbie in 2021 in taking the step from good to great. She was dominating the region the way he did.”
It has been a huge recovery year for Ray, who struggled in the short 2020 season. He made seven starts for the Diamondbacks, holding a 1-4 record and 7.84 ERA. He traded with the Blue Jays mid-season and made four starts and two comfortable runs, finishing with a 1-1 and 4.79 ERA record with Toronto.
Ray credited the off-season work for finding the consistency in his mechanics and the delivery that made this possible.
“I always felt like I had the mentality to go out and attack, but it doesn’t necessarily go along with the delivery,” Ray said. “And this year, I feel like I’ve really succeeded in it. I feel really good about the consistency of the delivery. And that consistency matching with that mindset, I feel, is what has allowed me to succeed this year.”
He reduced his walking rate from 17.9% in 2020 to a career best of 6.7% in 2021.
“I’ve always had things that swing and lighten,” he said. “I felt like it was one tweak away and I was always making an adjustment or trying to change something. And in the past year, I’ve felt like I’ve found something that will never change. It feels right, it feels good, it feels natural and it can be replicated. I think that’s the most important thing. One thing is that I was always looking for something I could replicate and that felt natural to me. I found her and went down to earth ran with her.”
Both Depute and Ray described the process of closing the deal as happening quickly.
During a media briefing on Saturday, DePoto said he has two free offers from agents. But it wasn’t for Ray.
“It was one that we got out of shortly after that,” DiPoto said. “We are still in discussions on Saturday, but there was no show.”
DiPoto first spoke with Ray’s agent Steve Feltman before Thanksgiving.
“He told us when we called him that Robbie was interested in Seattle,” DiPoto said. “We had our first Zoom meeting (on Friday) and followed it up with a meeting with our guys on board. The first thing that jumped out at us when we met Robbie – he was interested in what we were doing on the front of the show and the progressive nature of what our guys tend to do. That was his calling.”