DETROIT – It’s much easier for a major league reliever to pitch himself out of meaningful role than it is to pitch himself back into one.
Just ask Chris Ray.
The veteran right-hander started the season as the setup man to closer Brandon League. He quickly lost that role thanks to poor command, no pitch movement and lots of hits.
But he has worked his way back into a meaningful bullpen role by gaining the trust of Mariners manager Eric Wedge. On Friday night, he threw two hitless innings in Seattle’s win.
“The bullpen will evolve several times as the season wears on,” Wedge said. “He got off to a difficult start.”
In Ray’s first six appearances, comprising 5 innings, he allowed 12 hits and 10 runs for a cartoonish 16.88 earned-run average.
“I wasn’t good,” he said.
There was a flaw in his mechanics that went unnoticed. He was rocking back in his delivery instead of standing tall.
As a result, his fastball was straight and his slider was floating. Thankfully for Ray, pitching coach Carl Willis finally noticed what was going on.
“Carl brought it to my attention,” Ray said.
But with Ray relegated to mop-up status in the bullpen because of the early struggles, there was time to work on it.
“I was throwing (bullpen sessions) every other day, working with (Willis) and working on it,” Ray said.
When he corrected the flaw, Ray was able to get more downward angle to his fastball. He calls it tilt.
“If you throw a pitch that’s going down,” he said, “it’s much harder to hit than a pitch that’s staying on the same plane the whole time.”
The change helped return some life to his fastball and added bite to his slider.
“Before my slider was jut kind of floating, but now it’s been a lot sharper and a pitch I’ve been getting guys out on,” Ray said.
Since the changes, Ray has put together good outing after good outing.
He’s allowed just one earned run in 13 innings over his past 10 appearances, picking up two wins and lowering his ERA to 5.40.
CUST SITS AGAIN
After going 0-for-4 in Friday’s game, designated hitter Jack Cust was back on the bench on Saturday for the third time in four games.
Wedge said Cust will play today, but he could have more days off in coming weeks.
“We are picking and choosing,” Wedge said of the DH. “… We look at everything. We look at the matchups, and we still want to try to keep taking a look at the kids.”
Cust has two hits in his past 24 plate appearances.
“I know if he does get it turned around, he can be as hot as anyone in the game. He’s proven that before,” Wedge said.
Cust and Wedge talked about how the call-ups of Greg Halman and Mike Carp affect playing time.
“Not everyone can play every day,” Wedge said. “The people that need to understand it do understand it. I’ve been pretty open and honest about it.”
Wedge is giving young players the chance to earn playing time, just as he did the veterans for 65 games.
“We are two and half months (in),” Wedge said. “That’s a good period of time in a big-league season. We need to see what these (young) guys can do.”
The Mariners close the four-game series and the trip with at 10:05 a.m. game today on Root Sports and 1240-AM and 1030-AM. Felix Hernandez (6-5, 3.29 ERA) will start, while Detroit will go with right-hander Rick Porcello (6-3, 3.58).