Arizona Diamondbacks – Ray is beyond ‘potential’

Robbie Ray (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)
Robbie Ray (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports) /

Robbie Ray, left-hander of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is among leaders in strikeouts

By all consensus, the starting rotation of the Arizona Diamondbacks has been a disaster. Save the modest 11 wins from Zack Greinke, who also spent nearly a month and one-half on the disabled list, the fall from grace of starters was as dramatic and it was compelling.

Lefty Patrick Corbin, coming off a stellar spring, fell completely from favor and dropped from the rotation. The celebrated Shelby Miller trade turned out to be as shameful as it was tragic.

While there has been a residual effect through the rotation, the emergence of left-hander Robbie Ray to the reaches of Arizona starters was not completely unexpected. Since acquiring the lefty from Detroit in a three-team trade involving the Yankees, Tigers and the Arizona Diamondbacks on Dec. 5, 2014, manager Chip Hale constantly raves about Ray’s dynamic fastball and electric arm. While his secondary pitches were simply that, secondary, Ray’s fast ball became the difference between time in the majors and likely his time out of baseball.

Emerging as a starter by the opening month of the 2015, Ray suffered through a losing season (5-12), but his ERA of 3.52 for 23 starts was among the best on the staff. When Ray arrived at Salt River in February to commence spring training, his slot in the rotation was not guaranteed. Not until the final week was his spot among the five starters established by Hale, and his evolution began.

“It’s a matter of confidence,” Ray said after his start last Saturday in San Diego. “I’m just trying to get better every day.”

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A man now of few words, but Ray’s age, who will 25 on Oct. 1, suggests the learning curve may be over. Because he started the first five years of his professional career bouncing around in the minors, and was part of three organizations by the time he was 23, Ray was considered a “work-in-progress.” After three marginal seasons in the minors, he was promoted to the Tigers late in the 2014 season. Quickly, Detroit dealt the native of Brentwood, Tenn. to Arizona where Ray continued to languish. He began the 2015 season at Triple-A Reno, and was not called to the majors until May 6.

With the current rotation is a state of flux, Ray emerged as perhaps the most dependable. Over the course of the season, Ray unlocked the burden of “potential” into the steadiness of reliability. Allowing the Padres one hit and striking out a career-high last Saturday, Ray stopped out of the shadows and into Hale’s sense of priority.

“The word ‘potential’ no longer fits him,” Hale said. “Now, he’s getting more confidence and letting it fly. He confidence has made him how good he can be.”

Ray was duly reward by named the National League player-of-the-week which ended this past Sunday. In two starts last week, Ray went 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA. He led the majors with 18 strikeouts.

Striking out hitters now with alarming frequency, Ray is about to pass the 200 Ks for the season After the 13 strike out-effort against the Padres, Ray sits at 174 for 140 innings.

Coming into play Tuesday, Ray is sixth in the National League in strikeouts, and will likely pass Stephen Strasburg (179), who is currently on the disabled list.

Assuming he gets between six and seven more starts this season, and averaging eight strikeouts per start, that could be another 50 or so Ks. This would run his season total to about 225, and that’s good enough seventh best on the all-time season franchise best. Dan Haren, in 2009, recorded 223 Ks. Should Ray surpass that number, only Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, who struck out more batters during a single season in franchise history, stand in his way.

Next: Hale, Green going through tough seasons

On deck

Following the Diamondbacks’ 9-8 win Monday night and thanks to Paul Goldschmidt’s fourth career walk-off homer, the series continues with the Atlanta Braves in Chase Field. On Tuesday night, look for Archie Bradley (4-8, 5.04) to face righty Rob Whalen (1-2, 5.73). For Wednesday night, Zack Greinke (11-4, 4.21) opposes righty Julio Teheran (2-3, 4.89). For the series finale Thursday night, Robbie Ray (7-11, 4.31) goes against righty Tyrell Jenkins (2-4, 6.20).