Arizona Diamondbacks: Robbie Ray aims as the number two starter
By Mark Brown
Left-hander Robbie Ray of the Arizona Diamondbacks showed a strong economy of pitches in his second spring outing
At first glance, there is no question as to talent level of lefthander Robbie Ray of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Just ask hitters around the National League.
Last season, Ray emerged on the NL landscape as a proficient strikeout artist and a growing reputation with one of the most explosive fast balls in the majors. The dilemma Ray faced was the ability to harness this energy.
Behind hitters and elevating his pitch count for most of his 2016 starts, Ray rarely moved into the sixth inning and beyond. Though he finished with 174.1 innings, a career high, his record of 8-15 foreshadowed exits from games at uncomfortable times.
Now, Ray is determined to apply a fix, but not all at once. Using starts here in spring training as a measuring barometer, the 26-year-old native of Brentwood, Tenn. is careful to work in secondary pitches as mandatory “out pitches.” Plus, first pitch strike and fast ball command are clearly front and center on his radar screen.
After going 1.1 innings in his opening outing of the spring March 1 against the Chicago White Sox, Ray more than doubled his time Monday against the Kansas City Royals. Reaching a pitch count of 39 (23 for strikes) for three innings of work, Ray told Venom Strikes afterward his methodology is simple.
"I was able to mix in pitches and my curve was better. The slider was good and was happy with that pitch. I’m working on that and my change for strikes."
Among the 39 pitches, Ray threw five, first-pitch strikes to the 11 hitters he faced. That ratio is above his average for Ray and he indicated to Venom Strikes that it is critical now to gain an early command of the strike zone.
"If I get the first pitch in for a strike, I can use that aggressiveness. At this point, you want stay healthy and you want your pitches to be crisp."
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If manager Torey Lovullo is instilling a changed mind set to the pitching staff, that difference seems to be working.
Constantly demanding fast ball command from his pitchers as well as aggressiveness, Lovullo explained to Venom Strikes that Ray displayed those important characteristics against the Royals.
"We want our pitches to attack the zone and Robbie did just that. He mixed his pitches very well. (Ray) attacked the zone early in the count, and that’s something we stress."
Instead of prolonging his outing, Ray displayed that crispness and economy of flight. While it was not unusual for Ray to toss 20 to 25 pitches in any one inning last season, Ray cut that number in half in his outing against the Royals.
Facing Kansas City, Ray needed 13 pitches in the opening inning, 11 in second and 15 during his final inning of work. That represented a clear difference from his struggles of the past.
Following their 4-1 win over the Royals Monday, the Diamondbacks return to Salt River to face the Oakland A’s. That’s Tuesday afternoon and a start time of 1:10 p.m.
Next: Rotation starting to come into focus
Lovullo told Venom Strikes Shelby Miller and Archie Bradley will split duties against Oakland and each will likely go three innings. On Wednesday at Salt River, Zack Greinke makes his second spring appearance and will face Team Mexico. Braden Shipley and Evan Marshall are also available for Wednesday’s game.