October 5, 2022

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Raleigh to work on game, confidence in Minors

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ST. PETERSBURG — The Mariners’ plan to carry three catchers was always going to be short-lived once rosters were trimmed from 28 to 26 players, a change that will be enacted on Monday. And on Thursday, Cal Raleigh became the odd man out.

Raleigh was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma as part of five roster moves the Mariners made ahead of their series finale against the Rays at Tropicana Field. Reliever Yohan Ramirez was also sent to Tacoma a day after pitching three innings in what amounted to a bullpen game when Marco Gonzales exited after just 11 pitches

Relievers Penn Murfee and Wyatt Mills were recalled from Tacoma to give the Mariners fresh arms. To make room for Murfee on the 40-man roster, first baseman Evan White was moved from the 10-day to the 60-day injured list as he recovers from sports hernia surgery.

Raleigh heads to Tacoma with the chance for more consistent playing time, and perhaps a chance to restore confidence.

Raleigh started nine games for the Mariners, going 2-for-24 with one homer, four walks and nine strikeouts for a slash line of .083/.214/.208 (.422 OPS). He made more starts in the three-catcher rotation than Tom Murphy (eight) and Luis Torrens (four), who was activated Monday from a six-day stint on the COVID-19-related IL.

“Cal, we certainly like the player and like what he brings,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s young, and I think when you look back and kind of how his path has gone, he hasn’t played a ton of baseball at the upper levels.”

Raleigh, 25, was one of Tacoma’s best hitters last year before he was called up on July 11, hitting .324/.377/.608 (.985 OPS) with nine homers and going on a 23-game hitting streak. But his first stint in The Show didn’t maintain that pace, with Raleigh hitting .180/.223/.309 (.532 OPS) as a rookie.

Raleigh arrived at Spring Training much leaner and with improved mobility. He has been praised by the Mariners’ starting pitchers for his continued improvement in game calling. His framing numbers improved from the 34th percentile last year to the 74th, per Statcast. At the plate, his chase rate dropped from 43.2 to 33.3 percent, and he was perhaps the victim of a .071 BABIP.

“Obviously, pitch selection, kind of tightening the zone a little bit and not chasing as much,” Raleigh said earlier this month about his offseason changes. “I’m still not a finished product, and I’m still working and getting better every day, but I think I’m definitely taking a step forward.”

In a small sample size, Torrens’ framing numbers are better as well. He has upped his strike rate — the percentage of non-swings on the edges of the zone converted into called strikes — from 43.7 to 48.4 percent. After Torrens posted a .716 OPS in the second half last year (fourth on the team), the Mariners want to give him a chance to continue honing his defensive skills.

“There are just a handful of catchers that play five or six days a week in our game,” Servais said. “Most of those guys are established players, you know what I mean? So it’s kind of how the catching position evolved over time. It’s almost like a 50-50 or 60-40 split with the most teams. But [Raleigh] will get an opportunity to play consistently down there catching, and on days he’s not catching, he can DH. They can do more with the lineup to make sure he’s getting his at-bats.”

Servais, an 11-year Major League catcher, drew some parallels with his early days.

“It’s almost identical to how my career started when I got to the big leagues,” Servais said. “I got to the big leagues at 24 years old as a college player, drafted, spent minimal time in the Minor Leagues, got to the big leagues, you get a little taste of it at 24, 25. You’re still trying to figure it out, and that’s where [Raleigh is] at right now.”

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