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Mariners pitcher Robbie Ray to 15-day IL with left flexor strain

LHP Gabe Speier recalled from Tacoma with Chris Flexen likely to take over Ray’s spot in the rotation

Cleveland Guardians v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Mariners announced today that LHP Robbie Ray will head to the 15-day IL with what is being called a flexor strain. LHP Gabe Speier has been recalled from Tacoma in his place.

On the bright side, maybe this explains Ray’s uncharacteristically poor performance last night, where he walked five batters in his season debut—a mark he’s only matched one other time in his career. Ray seemed unable to make his pitches do what he wanted them to do yesterday, with the fastball sailing up out of the zone and the slider coming in flat and either hittable or not tempting Cleveland’s hitters. Postgame, Ray didn’t express any feelings of discomfort or blame his performance on an arm problem, taking full responsibility for his poor performance, but apparently the Mariners training staff turned something up in assessing the lefty.

On the not-bright side, well, everything else. The flexor mass is a group of muscles and tendons that come together in the forearm at the elbow; this injury can also be called a “strained elbow” or a “strained forearm” but they’re all referring to the same group of muscles and tendons. Flexor strains are concerning because studies have found that forearm flexor injuries are associated with UCL injuries, as the UCL attaches at the same place (the medial epicondyle), so they can be a precursor to a UCL injury (Tommy John). However, it’s important to note that this news is very preliminary—strains are graded 1-3 where a 1 signifies minor damage and a 3 indicates surgery or a long layoff is likely, and there’s no news yet on how severe the strain is. Walker Buehler had a flexor strain in June of last year that ended his season. Bryce Harper had a flexor strain in May of last year, and his season turned out okay. Marco Gonzales missed a month with a flexor strain in 2021, which feels like a best-case scenario for Ray, but again, it’s way too early to know. Still, it’s tough news for the Mariners, and for Ray himself, looking to bounce back after a less-than-ideal 2022 and coming off a strong spring.

But that’s why you build depth, and the Mariners are fortunate to have Chris Flexen, who handled the last few innings of last night’s stinker admirably, ready to assume Ray’s spot in the rotation. There’s also prospect Bryce Miller and other minors depth should Ray be laid up for a significant period of time. The Mariners are having their depth tested early, but maybe that’s a good time to have said depth tested, rather than, say, in the middle of a playoffs-chasing stretch run.

The other good news here is lefty Gabe Speier, who I thought should have won a job out of camp, gets a chance in Seattle. Speier was solid in spring training and showcased some nice swing-and-miss stuff from the left side; he’ll join Seattle’s bullpen from Tacoma. Should Speier falter, there’s still a deep group in Tacoma the Mariners can try out, ranging from huge-stuff-but-wandering-command lithe righty Riley O’Brien to waiver wire pickup Easton McGee to old friend and curveball master Casey Sadler. And if all else fails, electric-armed prospect Prelander Berroa could make his MLB debut sooner than expected.