Former Baltimore closer Chris Ray comes to Mariners camp as a non-roster player, but a return to his closer form would be a great benefit for Seattle’s bullpen in 2011.
PEORIA, AZ Chris Ray is due to catch a break.
The Seattle Mariners are definitely past due to catch a break.
Maybe they can help each other along the way.
Ray was one of the games top young closers back in 2006 when in his second full season in the big leagues he saved 33 games for the Baltimore Orioles. He had another 16 in 2007 before pain in his elbow shut him down.
Eventually the right-hander needed to have Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery in the elbow, and his career flattened out in a hurry. He didnt pitch in the big leagues at all in 2008. His 2009 included an 0-4 record and 7.27 ERA.
Things started to swing back to the positive in 2010. He was traded from one team that made it to the World Series (Texas) to the other team that made it to the World Series (San Francisco) and wound up being one of those rare players who got World Series shares from both the winning and losing clubs.
On the other hand, he wasnt on the Giants active roster for the postseason, so at a very basic level he was just a fan, although admittedly a very involved one.
As for the Mariners, they have lost 101 games in two of the last three seasons. And if things are going to change for Seattle in 2011, it will have to be in part because players like Ray return to their previous form.
Ray says hes healthy and more than ready to for the challenge. Though he has yet to throw anything more than a bullpen session while in a Seattle uniform, hes already being talked about as a possible April replacement for closer David Aardsma, who is still on crutches following hip surgery.
“I saw a real opportunity for me here, Ray said of signing with a club that doesnt have much of a chance to get him back to the postseason. “They have a good group of young pitchers, but I think there should be some jobs open in the bullpen.
“Id like to get back to pitching in the eighth and ninth innings, and I think there could be a chance to do that here.
Of course, it didnt hurt that while Ray was deciding where he wanted to play this season, money wasnt an immediate concern. Each World Series team voted him a full share of playoff money.
Though he didnt get a chance to pitch in the postseason, he earned more from the non-experience than almost anybody who was in uniform. The exception would be catcher Bengie Molina, who started out in San Francisco and went to Texas in the same trade that sent Ray to the Giants.
For Ray, that means the Mariners are his fourth organization in just over a year. The idea of walking into a strange clubhouse was once foreign to him. Now its just another condition of employment.
“It happened a couple of times just last year alone, he said. “The first time is unsettling. Then you get used to it.
What no pitcher can get used to is the thought of not pitching, but his Tommy John surgery meant that Ray missed the last couple of months in 2007, pitched in only nine minor league games (nine innings total) in 2008 and spent 2009 trying to regain his form. His struggles were so severe that he was sent to the minor leagues for most of June that year, but he was 2-0 with a 3.41 ERA for the Rangers and 3-0 with a 4.13 for the Giants last year.
“This is the first time in a long time that Ive felt strong and healthy at this time of the year, Ray said. “Last year I started to get it back together, but before that, I just didnt feel like myself. I came into games throwing sidearm, and that just wasnt me.”
It took a while for Ray to self-diagnose that he needed to get his arm angle back up to three-quarters. Once he did, during his mid-2009 sojourn to the minor leagues, bits and pieces of his former self began to return.
But it wasnt until 2010 that it clicked, and then not until September, when the Giants needed him most, was he consistent. He had a 2.00 ERA in eight games that month. As San Francisco pushed and second-place San Diego pulled during an intense National League West pennant race, Ray pitched as little as one-third of an inning and as much as 2.1 innings during that stretch.
If he can find that level of success in Seattle, the Mariners will be much better for it.
“I was finally able to throw pain-free, he said. “It was a good feeling. And Im feeling good now.
Time to catch a break?
John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)