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Looking Ahead on Chris Ray

What the? How is this your throwing motion? Pick your arm up!
What the? How is this your throwing motion? Pick your arm up!

Chris Ray came to the Mariners this past January and took a number in the long queue for service at the bullpen counter. Actually, that's not quite true since Ray signed a Minor League contract and not a Major League one, but that's splitting hairs. Actually, that's not quite true either because mistaking the two is easy while splitting a hair is difficult. Have you tried it? A hair strand is quite thin. It is difficult to hold a single one between your fingers much less split it in twain.

What matters is Chris Ray signed with the Mariners organization (happy now?) and arrived at Spring Training with a whole bunch of other people vying for one of the bullpen jobs. Ray had some credence behind him as a former closer with Baltimore in 2006-7 and member of the World Series winning Giants last season. However, Ray entered 2011 with lasting concerns over his recovery from Tommy John surgery, his fastball speed and his ability to strike hitters out going forward. Ray made the Major League team out of camp and seemed to be fine with the first two humps, but that third proved a tricky bar to vault.

Chris Ray didn't strike anyone out until his sixth appearance of the season. He hadn't walked anyone until then either, but he did suffer a whole Hummer full of hits allowed and runners crossing the plate, sending his ERA to the roof and his place to the back of the line. He pitched sporadically over the next couple weeks, but when he managed to get an appearance, did generally appear improved. Chris Ray's last 23 appearances have seen a 19% strikeout rate, an 8% walk rate, just a single home run and only one inherited runner score to go with his 2.63 run average. In short, Chris Ray outside of his awful start has - similarly to Erik Bedard's Mariner season went - been quite effective.

That's good for both the Mariners and for Chris Ray since Ray is on a one year deal and was pitching to prove himself worthy of a more concrete contract next season. That hope may be dashed now. Ray is saddled on the disabled list with a shoulder strain, an injury that could wreak havoc on a pitcher who tries to come back before it fully heals. It could be that Ray either does not pitch much or at all the rest of this season. If so, he will end 2011 with an ERA of 4.68 and zero saves recorded in a year dominated by pitching. He did not flash high-90s heat. Nothing about his season looks remarkable unless you notice the abrupt split in his game logs around the end of April.

That's bad for Chris Ray's job prospects next year, but potentially good for the Mariners. They have seen Ray up close, they should be more intimately aware of his improved performance level after the rough beginning and perhaps they will have some inertia leverage on keeping Ray around. I believe they should explore that. Ray will certainly shop himself around this winter, but if he's unable to land himself a seven-figure guaranteed Major League job - and I can't foresee a team giving him that without the aid of probably illegal hallucinogens - returning to the Mariners may make sense for both sides. Ray gets another crack at regaining value while pitching in a friendly ballpark and the Mariners get a potentially undervalued commodity for little commitment. It made sense back in January and almost nothing has changed since. Well, nothing concerning the dynamic between those two parties. Lots of other things have changed in the universe. I bought some sweet tarts for instance. Aw yeah, sweet tarts.