It was nearly seven weeks ago in Houston that Robbie Ray turned his season around.
If the Seattle Mariners are to avoid a sweep in their three-game series against the visiting Astros on Sunday afternoon, Ray will need another stellar outing.
Ray (8-6, 3.54 ERA) allowed three early home runs in that game on June 6 before a mid-inning meeting with manager Scott Servais, pitching coach Pete Woodworth and catcher Cal Raleigh.
Servais suggested whatever Ray was doing wasn’t working and that they should change things up. Ray went back to a two-seam fastball he hadn’t used in six years and made it through five innings to earn the victory.
In seven starts since, he’s 3-0 with a 1.36 ERA. Over 46 1/3 innings, he’s allowed just 24 hits and struck out 58.
In seven career starts against the Astros, Ray is 3-1 with a 5.40 ERA.
Ray won his last start before the All-Star break, matching a season-high with 12 strikeouts in an 8-3 victory at Texas.
“That’s probably the best I felt all year,” Ray said. “I felt like everything was working really well for me.”
He was backed by a grand slam from All-Star rookie Julio Rodriguez, who showed that was no fluke by hitting 81 balls over the fence at Dodger Stadium while finishing second in the Home Run Derby to Washington’s Juan Soto. Rodriguez has missed the first two games of this series with left wrist soreness and is questionable for Sunday’s game.
It was Ray’s 15th game since the start of last season with 10 or more strikeouts, tied with Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes for the most during that stretch.
“When your team puts up a crooked number, you go out and attack, attack the zone and try to get back in and get some more runs,” Ray said.
The Astros, who have won four straight out of the All-Star break, including a doubleheader sweep of the New York Yankees on Thursday, plan to counter with lefty Framber Valdez (8-4, 2.66). He’s 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA in seven career appearances against Seattle, with five starts.
Houston won the series opener 5-2 Friday night, then Justin Verlander shut down the Mariners in a 3-1 victory Saturday, his major-league leading 13th of the season.
Verlander retired 15 batters in a row before Carlos Santana homered with one out in the seventh. The Mariners then loaded the bases, but Verlander got out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts, including getting Raleigh to chase a chin-high, 99-mph fastball
“I remember the greats, Bob Gibson and (Tom) Seaver, and I told him, ‘You know, when they were in trouble, they knew how to pitch out of trouble,'” Houston manager Dusty Baker said. “The mark of a good pitcher is figuring out how to get either a double play or a popup or a strikeout, and I tell you, that one … that was great. I mean, we needed that. He needed it. We’re operating on fumes, so I’ll say that was a great victory.”
–Field Level Media