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Cy Young winner Robbie Ray adds “teacher” to his list of accolades

In signing Robbie Ray, the Mariners got an anchor and a lighthouse

Tampa Bay Rays v Seattle Mariners
Robbie Ray with one of his young charges
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Logan Gilbert visited with Brock and Salk on the last day of the regular season and was asked to give one word for each member of the starting rotation. When asked about Robbie Ray, Gilbert responded immediately with the word “leader.”

There are a host of other adjectives Gilbert could have chosen for the reigning AL Cy Young: “dominant” comes to mind; “competitor” is another; “best hair” is a dark-horse choice (Ray is the proud owner of a magnificent curly quiff that seems to exist in its own locale on the space time-continuum). But Gilbert has had a particular benefit from Ray’s presence in the clubhouse this year. The cerebral 25-year old is a fervent student of the game, constantly fishing the waters of MLB for innovations he might bring to his repertoire. Ray helps reel in the younger pitcher, reminding him of the importance of staying within himself. Ray’s leadership of the pitching staff has maybe flown a little below the radar, but he’s taken this young staff in hand, working extensively with both Gilbert and Kirby.

“He’s been a great mentor,” says Kirby. “He’s super invested in not just himself, but all the guys around him.”

Crucially, Ray understands the differences between his two young charges. Gilbert is cerebral, a data-collector, someone who needs to “figure it out on his own.” Kirby is more a kinetic learner, someone who is willing to try things out and adopt them quickly if they seem to be working.

“[Logan is] very meticulous in the way he goes about things, he doesn’t always jump right in, where George does,” says Ray, barely a half-decade older than these players but sounding like a parental figure. “George will just try something, and if it works, great, and if it doesn’t, he’ll just throw it out.”

Gilbert has asked Ray for help on throwing his slider—since he “throws a pretty good one,” Logan says, drily. Ray actually attempted to help Gilbert with his slider back in spring training, but, “I didn’t listen as much as I should have,” confesses Logan.

“I tried to help him more with the mentality behind throwing it, because obviously, we’re different pitchers, he’s righty, I’m lefty,” says Ray. “He’s over seven feet of extension, I’m not even six and a half, so just trying to talk to him about the mentality of throwing the pitch, just getting a grip he’s comfortable with and feeling like he’s throwing a fastball with it.”

Gilbert is known as a tinkerer, a perfectionist who is always looking to maximize each one of his pitches. Ray helped Gilbert remember the pitch he loves best—his fastball—and encouraged him to find the similarities between the two pitches, which has paid huge dividends in the Mariners’ stretch run, as a better-tunneled slider has emerged as a potent weapon for Gilbert:

Meanwhile, Ray has helped George Kirby find a new weapon in his arsenal in the two-seamer. Like Gilbert, Kirby is also a student of the game, and had a front-row seat to see the effect Ray’s new two-seamer had on his arsenal.

“I saw how much of a weapon that was, when he added that,” says Kirby. “Now there’s two fastballs, guys had to think about those two and then the slider, and I was like, ‘man, I need that pitch’. I was struggling with lefties so I thought it would be something good to learn. I’m grateful I was able to make that adjustment, and I’m grateful Robbie was willing to help me out with that.”

Kirby gives credit to all the more senior members of the pitching staff, noting that it’s been interesting to watch the give-and-take between Marco and Ray as they flip ideas off each other. “It’s been a great year. With both those guys and Castillo coming in too, it’s been cool.” But Gilbert points out that it was Ray who addressed the entire team—not just the pitchers—pre-champagne celebration on Clinch Night, “telling the team what needed to be said,” which speaks to the respect the reigning Cy Young champ has in the clubhouse.

But it’s not Ray’s accolades that mean the most to his young pitchers.

“He’s a great teammate. He really cares about us and how we’re doing,” says Kirby.

“After a bad or a good start, he’s always patting you on the back or giving you support,” says Gilbert. “He’s been there for us, and I really appreciate that.”