Ray absent without explanation (or replacement) while Mariners visit Toronto
TORONTO – Under other circumstances, this might have been the day Blue Jays fans heaped applause on the defending American League Cy Young winner. This would have been his chance to reconnect with the teammates who played alongside him in two playoff runs and perhaps answer some questions about how close he came to re-signing in Toronto over the winter.
Instead, robbie ray was nowhere to be found on Monday when the Seattle Mariners he arrived in Toronto for the first of three games against the Blue Jays. His absence raised a few questions and he may have answered a few others, but a reunion will have to wait until July, when the Blue Jays (and thousands of their fans) visit Seattle for four games.
Officially, the Mariners offered no explanation for Ray’s absence. Manager Scott Servais acknowledged that Ray was not in Toronto and noted that he is expected to pitch in Boston, where Seattle heads next.
This much is clear: Anyone entering Canada must now have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, including professional athletes. And to this point, Ray has not commented on his vaccination status. Meanwhile, MLB rules state that unvaccinated players will be placed on the restricted list where they will not receive pay or service time. But MLB rules also include a provision that prevents teams from gaining an unfair advantage against the Blue Jays.
Those who have pitched at least four consecutive innings in a game cannot be placed on the restricted list and replaced on the active roster until three days have passed. That makes Ray, who pitched six innings Sunday, ineligible. Otherwise, opposing teams could simply time starts strategically and expand their bullpens or benches while in Toronto. It would be an optional mini-assignment that would help everyone but the Blue Jays, so it’s not allowed under MLB rules.
Whether that’s what’s happening with the Mariners isn’t a matter of public record. But while Seattle placed right-hander Drew Steckenrider on the restricted list Monday, no such move was made for Ray. Practically speaking, that means the Mariners are on equal footing with the Blue Jays. And Ray, who signed a five-year, $115 million deal last winter, will continue to earn his full salary ($346,153 over the next three days to anyone who’s aware).
It’s probably for the best that the struggling Blue Jays lineup doesn’t have to face Ray, who led the AL with 248 strikeouts and a 2.84 ERA last year. When he’s on, the lefty’s fastball/slider combination can be devastating.
“Consistency,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo recalled. “I remember he was always the same guy and throwing strikes on every pitch he threw. When he pitched, the whole team felt ‘we have a chance to win today.’ We have Robbie Ray.’”
“The rest is history,” Montoyo concluded. “It was really good.”
So far this year, results have been lackluster for Ray, who has a 4.62 ERA in eight starts with an American League-leading 18 walks. Still, from the Mariners’ perspective, it’s been valuable to have someone who can win innings and miss at bats.
“It has meant a lot,” Servais said. “I know he’s not having the kind of numbers season that he had last year, but things are still very good. I think he had 26 or 27 swings and he missed yesterday. He’s only had one bad inning that affected every outing, but he’s given us a chance to win almost every time he’s been there and throws six or more innings consistently. I don’t know a manager alive who doesn’t accept that.”
Of course Montoyo could say the same for Kevin Gausman, who has pitched like an ace since signing a similar five-year, $110 million deal in Toronto. It will be a while before anyone can say which of those deals works out better, but the Blue Jays have reason to be excited about early returns for Gausman, who outscored Ray by a wide margin with a 2.40 ERA and 54 strikeouts by comparison. to two rides.
Regardless of whether Ray is vaccinated, regardless of how seriously the Blue Jays pursued him over the winter, there will be tough decisions for Toronto’s front office as it looks to add to this roster over the summer.
That’s true of all contending teams, but it’s especially significant here. Most of the time a team comes to Toronto, one or two players have ended up on the restricted list. But those teams can still replace anyone on the restricted list before resuming business as usual a few days later. For the Blue Jays, unvaccinated players are basically non-starters as long as current travel restrictions are in place, a challenge that makes their pool of available players the smallest in the MLB.