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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

July 6, 2011 at 10:06 AM

Jeff Gray: the most rested pitcher in the American League

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It’s only fitting that the day Jeff Gray joined the Mariners, their game with the Cleveland Indians was rained out. And the next day’s, too. Chances are, even if they had played, Gray wouldn’t have been used anyway. He seldom is.

Jeff Gray is the Mariners’ phantom pitcher, the Maytag repairman of relievers (ask your parents). Babies have been born and celebrated their one-month birthday since Gray last toed the slab. I know some Seattle fans wonder if he really even exists, but I can vouch for the fact that Jeff Gray is real, live, very pleasant human being. I talked to him, along with the other Mariner reporters, that rainy May 14 day in Cleveland when he showed up, having been claimed off waivers from the White Sox. He was a comparative workhorse in Chicago, appearing in six games. In his last start for Ozzie Guillen’s club, four days earlier, Gray worked three shutout innings against the Angels, and he had a 2.70 ERA, so I asked him if he was surprised they waived him.

“It did surprise me, but I’m happy to be here and hopefully I can help these guys out,” he replied. “Chicago was a great plce to play, and every time I’ve been to Seattle it’s been awesome to play there. So I’m excited and we’ll see what happens.”

Gray also pondered what his new role might be with the Mariners.

“I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I’ll see what they want to do with me. They were using me in long relief (in Chicago). I don’t know what they’ll do here. I have to fit in, they have to see what I’ve got. So we’ll see.”

Well, we’ve seen what the Mariners want to do with Gray: Virtually nothing. Today is his 54th calendar day on the active Seattle roster, during which time he has been fully healthy, as far as anyone knows. The Mariners have played 47 games in that span — and Gray has appeared in three of them. He hasn’t faced a real, live major-league hitter since June 11, when he worked an inning against the Tigers in Detroit. In fact, let’s give the entire Gray pitching log with Seattle. It won’t take long:

May 24: Ten days after arriving, Gray finally made his Mariners debut in the eighth inning of a 4-2 loss in Minnesota. He retired both batters he faced, one by strikeout.

May 29: Mopping up a poor Jason Vargas start at Safeco, Gray entered the game in the fourth against the Yankees and worked four innings, giving up five hits and just one run in an eventual 7-1 Mariners loss.

June 11: As mentioned, 13 days after his last appearance, Gray worked one inning against Detroit, the eighth, in an 8-1 Seattle loss at Comerica Park. He gave up two hits and a run, but Gray could be excused for being rusty.

And here we stand. It’s now 23 days later, and Gray is still chained to the Mariner bullpen, ready, willing and able, but uncalled upon. The inimitable Jeff Sullivan did this riff over a month ago. Imagine what he’d come up with now.

Ray is a victim of great Mariner starting pitching, which has largely eliminated the need for a long man, and by Eric Wedge’s staunch reliance on four prime relievers: Brandon League, David Pauley, Jamey Wright and Aaron Laffey, with a little Chris Ray thrown in for variety (though Ray has worked just one-third of an inning since June 27).

Way back on May 14, we asked the newly arrived Gray to describe his repertoire.

“What do I offer? I throw a sinker, slider, changeup and curveball. Hopefully, one of those somebody misses.”

Maybe one day, we’ll get to find out.

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