HOUSTON — It was a day full of teachable moments for Cal Raleigh.
And while the Mariners got a much-needed win Wednesday afternoon, there will likely be better days ahead for the Mariners’ young catcher.
Out of the starting lineup for a second straight day due to continued struggles at the plate, he also had to wear a microphone for the early inning of the game as part of the game being broadcast on YouTube.
A quiet kid by nature and a rookie who understands his place on the pecking order of the team, Raleigh was never going to provide much fodder for the highlights. He isn’t one to banter too much and certainly not give a hard time to the veteran players.
He did offer a few moments of conversation, mentioning country artist Cody Jinks as his song “Loud and Heavy” was being played while Astros lefty Brooks Raley warmed up. Raleigh, who uses the Jinks’ song “Hippies and Cowboys” as his walk-up music talked about wanting to see the artist in concert as a plug that Jinks might hear and cracked a rare smile.
He’s had little to smile about in recent weeks. He came into Wednesday hitless in his previous 21 plate appearances. Since getting a pair of hits against Houston on July 27, Raleigh has struggled to adjust to pitchers attacking his weak spots — elevated fastballs out of the zone and off-speed pitches below it.
Coming into Wednesday, he’d posted a .141/.181/.205 slash line with five doubles, four RBI, three walks and 29 strikeouts over his past 26 games played and 83 plate appearances.
“He’s learning a ton every day here based on where he’s at with his swing and what teams are doing to him,” manager Scott Servais said. “The biggest thing that Cal has struggled with is controlling the strike zone. He’s been very aggressive, swinging at a lot of different pitches that he typically doesn’t swing at. That happens when guys are searching for hits and searching for the end result versus kind of staying with a process.”
Per FanGraphs, Raleigh is swinging at 61.8% of the pitches. Of those swings, 46.7% are considered outside the strike zone, and he’s making contact on those pitches just 59% of the time. Of players with at least 100 plate appearances, Raleigh’s swing rate and 20.6% swing-and-miss rate are fifth highest in all of MLB.
He entered the game as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning when Jake Bauers pinch hit for Tom Murphy.
He didn’t wear the microphone on the field, which was probably a good thing when he came to the plate in the ninth inning with runners on second and third and the game tied at 4-4. Raleigh struck out looking on a call that left him shaking his head and his hitless streak at 22 plate appearances.
Like his teammate Jarred Kelenic and one-time Tacoma teammate Taylor Trammell, Raleigh has struggled as a rookie. In 36 games, he has a .156/.205/.248 slash line with seven doubles, a homer, 11 RBI, six walks and a whopping 42 strikeouts in 116 plate appearances.
And while he didn’t come through in the ninth, Servais believes he will be better for experiencing it.
“The experiences that we are gaining, and I’ve said this a million times and I’m going to keep saying it again,” Servais said. “But even Cal Raleigh up in that position — second and third with their closer on the mound of big game on Sept. 8 — it’s invaluable. Did he come through? No, he didn’t. But eventually it is going to help him along the way.”
Servais pointed to Jarred Kelenic’s big two-run double in the seventh inning as a sign of growth through experience.
“How Jarred Kelenic is handling those at-bats now versus maybe how he was a couple months ago? It’s a night-and-day difference,” Servais said. “You’ve just got to go through it. The experience is huge. And we’re getting a lot of it right now.”
Prospect Hancock done for season
General manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed via text message that right-hander Emerson Hancock, the Mariners’ first-round draft pick in 2020, has been shut down for the remainder of this season.
“He’s in Arizona focusing on arm care and shoulder strengthening programs,” Dipoto said.
Dipoto added: “He’s had shoulder fatigue on and off all season. With so few games left, we thought it best to build a stronger foundation for ’22 and beyond by focusing strengthening programs now … and he’s very much on board.”
Ranked as the No. 47 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America, Hancock made his professional debut with High-A Everett this season. After his first seven starts, where he posted a 2-0 record and 2.42 ERA with 11 walk and 25 strikeouts in 26 innings, Hancock had shoulder fatigue.
He returned to the mound July 28, making two shortened starts for Everett and was promoted to Arkansas where he had three starts, posting a 1-1 record and 3.29 ERA with 13 strikeouts and four walks in 13 2/3 innings.
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