January 30, 2023

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Mariners rise as Ray logs season-high 10 K's

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SEATTLE — Robbie Ray put it all together in a dominant outing, explicitly the kind that the Mariners signed him for $115 million to be their ace, and Seattle’s bats finally broke through in a big, albeit quirky, way in a 5-3 win over the Phillies on Tuesday at T-Mobile Park.

Ray racked up 10 strikeouts, a season high for any Mariners pitcher, and was perfect through the first four innings. Yet some much-needed run support — mostly via infield hits — helped him overcome a shaky fifth and position the bullpen to take the game to the finish line and even this three-game series.

Ray said after his previous outing last Thursday, “Man, I’m telling you, I’m right there,” when describing how close he felt to uncovering a timing issue that prevented him from putting everything in one single start. Tuesday represented his best yet, still with room to grow.

“I definitely felt like everything was clicking tonight,” Ray said. “The fastball was really good. The slider was as good as it’s ever been. It felt like my timing, everything, was right where it needed to be.”

The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner generated 21 whiffs, a mark only nine others have reached this season, against 58 swings for a 38% whiff rate while also showing a notable increase on his fastball velocity at 93.4 mph, up from 92.6 mph. And Ray’s slider — one of the Majors’ best when it’s on — generated 15 of those whiffs, the second most by any pitcher on a slider this year to only the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.

A 31-pitch fifth inning kept Ray from going deeper than his season-high 104 tally, as he came one out shy of finishing the sixth, just the second time in seven outings he’s failed to go that deep.

Ray surrendered just two hits, a solo homer to Nick Castellanos that led off the fifth and a double to Bryce Harper in the sixth that ended his outing. Ray also walked two, including a costly free pass to Jean Segura, who then tagged up to second on a deep flyout and advanced to third then home on two wild pitches from Ray, also in the fifth.

“I think you’re just understanding that you’re never out of it,” Ray said of the jam. “You’re one pitch away. What’s happened has happened. You can’t change it. It’s frustrating. The wild pitches, the home run, it is what it is. Solo homers aren’t gonna beat you. I think just understanding that, and just doing your best job to get your team back in the dugout so we can hit again.”

For a team that badly needed it, Ray represented a shot in the arm. But their bats connecting for 10 hits was perhaps just as encouraging given that they entered the night with an MLB-high five shutouts. No other team has more than four.

The Mariners didn’t exactly barrel up Phillies ace Aaron Nola, who generated an MLB-high six called strikeouts. Seattle had an average exit velocity of 85.4 mph on 19 balls in play against the former All-Star — well below the 95 mph hard-hit threshold — thanks to five infield hits, and six total when including Philly’s relievers, which matched the Twins for the most in a single game this year, per Statcast.

The most notable was Adam Frazier reaching in the second after colliding with the glove of Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins, who clearly corralled the throw in time but dropped the ball after. Phils manager Joe Girardi didn’t challenge within the 20-second window allotted and instead argued the call, which led to his ejection.

“Most of those first basemen are big guys compared to me,” Frazier said. “So I’m just trying to run hard and see what happens.”

Luis Torrens ended Nola’s night by winning an 11-pitch battle with a single to right to push his tally to 99. Immediately after, Brad Hand entered, walked Frazier, hit Ty France with the bases loaded then surrendered a sac fly to J.P. Crawford to give the Mariners enough cushion. France’s first-inning double was the Mariners’ only hit for extra bases, but they’ll take it.

For a club playing the 15th in a 16-game stretch with no off-day, then a cross-country flight awaiting after Wednesday’s series finale and a 10-game, three-city road trip with no breaks on the horizon, Tuesday’s victory represented a big breath of fresh air.

“We had one of those games where the ball did bounce our way tonight,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We didn’t hit a ton of balls hard off Nola, but we were fortunate we hit him in the right spot. We haven’t had that game in quite some time, and it’s going to even out.”

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