The former Cy Young winner is done for the season. Where could the Mariners look next?
Mariners fans riding the Aprilenic hog got a nasty reality check today when it was announced by the team that LHP Robbie Ray will undergo surgery on his flexor tendon and miss the rest of the season . As Ray was assessed to see if he could resume a throwing program, doctors instead discovered more damage in another area of his flexor tendon and recommended surgery.
Flexor tendon strain often leads to Tommy John surgery, as noted in the original article about Ray’s injury. A UCL, or “Tommy John” or “TJ” rebuild can keep a player on the shelf for between a year and 18 months. A torn flexor tendon, which Ray suffered, is a different injury, with a shorter recovery period: more like nine months, similar to the injury Matt Boyd had before coming to Seattle. During his career, Ray, 31, has never spent much time on the IL: he missed a few weeks here and there with minor injuries, suffered a concussion in 2017 and suffered an oblique sprain in 2018, but this is his first time dealing with a serious arm injury.
It’s a terrible blow for Ray and the Mariners, as Ray not only kept a spot in the rotation, but also served as a mentor to many of the team’s young pitchers, especially George Kirby, who was his pitching partner. spring training. Ray was instrumental in helping Kirby develop his new two-seam; the two worked on a new splitter this spring.
With Ray out for the season, the Mariners basically have three options: 1) move Chris Flexen into the rotation permanently; 2) promote a player from underage to take Ray’s place; 3) exchange for another spin coin.
Currently the team is rolling with the first option, with fairly approximate results, the Mariners have lost every game Flexen has started, although he only gave up one point in his first outing against Cleveland and only two against the Angels. Since then, however, it’s been a dismal slip-up, starting with the blown lead against Chicago, followed by giving up four points against Milwaukee and six points not entirely his fault against St. Louis.
Flexen has no options, but could be sent back to a bullpen role if the team wanted to take a look at another arm – consider it a hybrid of the first two options. The hot names here will be prospects Bryce Miller, Emerson Hancock or Bryan Woo, all of whom are in Double-A Arkansas, but none of them are ready for a big league role just yet. 2021 rookie Woo has perhaps the most promising, but least polished takedown trick of the three after missing significant time early in his big league career with his own TJ surgery. He has all 12 innings pitched in the high minors and has pitched shorter four inning outings, so don’t expect to see him anytime soon. Hancock, the team’s 2020 first-rounder, has the most Double-A time but has battled his own injuries and couldn’t run out of bats until this year, although it’s s also comes with a slight increase in walking. rate. 2021 third-rounder Miller got the longest spring training look of the three and is likely the first of this group to get a nod, but so far his strikeouts are down this season and he recently came off an outing where he was bombed by Texas’ Double-a team led by top prospect Evan Carter.
There are other internal options in Triple-A, although it would take a substantial Flexen meltdown to lose to southpaws like Tommy Milone or José Rodríguez or Darren McCaughan, all of whom are best used to start emergency points or the depth of the bullpen rather than regular rotation plays. RHP Taylor Dollard has been a hot name among Mariners prospect aficionados after dominating the Texas League last year, but he’s pitched just eight innings so far in Tacoma and has been brutalized by longball – a rate of 50% HR/FB! – leading to an ERA/FIP close to double digits. One name to watch is Easton McGee, acquired from the Red Sox for cash this offseason after being DFA by the Rays, who used him as a reliever arm. Seattle took him back to his starting roots and he made five solid starts for Tacoma, proving adept at limiting hard contacts (his HR/FB rate is one digit lower than Dollard’s, at just 5.3 %) and to control the zone well. Outside of a rocky opening weekend start where he allowed the Dodgers Triple-A team four runs in 4.1 innings, he allowed just 1-2 earned runs per start each start thereafter while pitching at least five innings.
There is also the commercial market, which is the most complicated and expensive option of the three. At the start of the season, it’s hard to find teams willing to admit they’re giving up, and one of those teams is playing in the Mariners division. The Mariners’ main commercial capital is their young outfielders Taylor Trammell and Cade Marlowe, both of whom are returning from injuries that kept them out of spring training, and the same pitching prospects who might be able to take the place of Flexen if needed somewhere. all along the line. Although the commercial market may open later this season, it is difficult to see this as an immediate option for the club.
What happens next largely depends on what Chris Flexen is able to do. The Mariners have built pitching depth in the event of this scenario; now, this depth will be tested early. Flexen is currently burnt by longball, with a 20% HR/FB rate, a consequence of his weak command in the zone. If he can only make a few key adjustments to manage his hard contact and chew a few innings until one of the pitching prospects is ready, the path forward is less murky. If it’s not, as Flexen said after his outing against the Cardinals, “the bottom,” then the Mariners will have to get creative to fill the spoke-shaped hole in their rotation.