The development of left-hander Robbie Ray of the Arizona Diamondabcks into a top of the rotation starter hinges the sequence of his pitches
Earlier this summer, the 24-year-old left-hander started trending in that direction. The earned run average indicated otherwise, but the underlying numbers were positive.
In eight June starts, Ray complied a 4.72 ERA. Alone, this could suggest he pitched poorly. However, a deeper dive into the numbers tells a different tale.
In those same outs, Ray struck out 11.14 batters per nine innings and walked just 2.36 BB/9 innings. A high ground-ball percentage and low HR/9 rate provided further evidence of his improvement.
In August, Ray’s ERA finally caught up with the rest of his numbers.
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In this month, Ray made eight starts, and accumulated an earned run average of 2.70. Ray continued to attack the strike zone (38 K/9 BB), and his improved efficiency encouraged Hale and pitching coach Mike Butcher.
The best example of this occurred on August 10 against the Mets at Citi Field. Ray worked into the seventh inning and needed just 98 pitches (14 P/IP). IN this game, he was able to record more outs, and used fewer pitches.
Pitch sequencing is the next step in the process.
Ray knows throwing quality pitches are important. Establishing his power fast-ball on the inside part of the plate allows him to open up the rest of his pitches and the closes strike zone.
An electric fastball often allows a pitcher to get away with mistake pitches. At the same time, this can also establish a predictable pattern. This explains why Ray tends to struggle the second and third time through the order.
As a result, Ray is focused on keeping hitters guessing. To accomplish this, his selection of off-speed pitches is crucial.
“I’m working on the curve and making progress,” Ray said after his last start against the Dodgers. “I want to throw it sooner in the count and keep guys off-balance. Yes, I’m using it more.”
Hale agreed that Ray’s off-speed pitches are heading in the right direction.
“His change has been much better, and his curve is improving.,” the manager pointed out. “I thought he had a complete game (against the Dodgers September 7) with his fast-ball and breaking pitches. He was more of a pitcher, than a thrower, than in any game this season.”
If Ray does this every time he toes the rubber, the Diamondbacks believe he can develop into the leader of their pitching staff.