Robbie Ray throws a gem with a two-seam fastball but Mariners lose to Red Sox 2-0

A bad disguise consists of a set of changes in appearance, often to one’s most notable features/accessories, designed to fool others into overlooking one’s true identity. Coming into today’s game I assumed Robbie Ray was playing in a bad disguise, having shaved his controversial moustache since his last start. Perhaps without the moustache the Red Sox wouldn’t recognize him and would be so distracted by their surprise and confusion that they’d forget how to hit his fastball.

bad disguise
Photos by Carmen Mandato and Abbie Parr/Getty Images

A good disguise, on the other hand, consists of changes to both one’s appearance and one’s mannerisms, designed to fool others by altering aspects of behavior that operate subconsciously and are difficult to adjust. As it turns out, Ray was playing in a good disguise this afternoon, having not only shaved his moustache but also adjusted his mannerisms. Example #1 comes from Brittney Bush Bollay:

Is that it, Brittney? Or is he not grunting as part of the ruse?

Example #2 is the more relevant one: Robbie Ray has dramatically adjusted his mix of pitches. From Opening Day to last week, Ray threw his 4-seam fastball 52.8% of the time, his slider 41.7% of the time, and his sinker 2.3% of the time. In today’s game, he threw his four-seamer 29% of the time, his slider 18% of the time, and his sinker a whopping 48% of the time (throwing nearly double the number of sinkers today that he had all year up to this point). In his last outing, on June 6 in Houston, Ray started to throw his two-seam fastball partway through the game, but even the change from that game to today is striking:

side-by-side pitch chart comparison
Baseball Savant

I’m using two-seam fastball and sinker interchangeably here, because while interviews with Ray and his coaches indicate that the pitch is more accurately classified as a two-seamer (given its more horizontal movement), Statcast records it as a sinker.

Ray’s pitch mix adjustment was the talk of the broadcast and proved effective against Boston: He went seven scoreless innings, giving up just three hits and one walk with four strikeouts. The Red Sox couldn’t get much solid contact off of his sinker; he induced a lot of ground ball contact and none with an exit velocity over 100. The cat’s now out of the bag on this new pitch, so Ray’s next few starts will be informative in terms of how he continues to use and develop the pitch, and how opposing teams will adjust to it.

Ray’s excellent outing lined up against what we thought was essentially a bullpen day for the Red Sox, who called up Kutter Crawford from triple-A to start after Garrett Whitlock was placed on the 15-day injured list yesterday. Crawford hadn’t gone more than 4 innings at any level this year, so his five scoreless innings with one hit and seven strikeouts were even more unexpected than Ray’s dominance. Most of the offensive excitement (if it even reaches the level of excitement) today came in the form of five Mariners walks and stolen bases by Adam Frasier, Taylor Trammell, and Dylan Moore. Additional kudos go to the broadcast team, who had several good calls (including both a very excited “boom bang BANG!” from Dave Sims when Ray struck out the side in the first and an “oh no! oh NO!” when Rafael Devers hit the go-ahead home run in the 7th) and apparently sent Mike Cameron to argue an error call in the fourth (he succeeded, and what was originally called a fielding error on Ty France was reclassified as a double for J.D. Martinez).

Okay, we can talk about the home run. Paul Sewald came in in the eighth to finish what Ray started, and he struck out the first two batters with ease. The third batter of the inning was Rob Refsnyder, who went around on what would have been strike three, but got hit in the hand, bringing up Devers instead of the end of the inning. Sewald battled Devers to an 0-2 count, and then Devers somehow hit a ball several inches outside the zone out to left field for a two-run home run.

Is Sewald to blame? Sure, in that he threw a pitch that Devers hit into the visiting bullpen. But Devers is one of only a few hitters who could have hit that out, so it’s hard to be angry about it. Another day, another game, this one a loss. But one where our Cy-Young-winner looked the part, which has got to count for something. (I know, it literally counts for nothing, but at least it feels good). Let’s focus on that, and meet back here tomorrow.

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