Arizona’s All-Star lefty gets off to good start in spring
GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Robbie Ray sure looked like that tough, young 15-game winner in his first start of spring training.
There was that familiar loud grunt every time the 26-year-old left-hander let go of the ball, echoing through the mostly empty seats of the Goodyear Ballpark.
“You know he’s pitching, for sure,” catcher Alex Avila said with a smile.
Ray didn’t allow a run or hit in two innings in an Arizona split squad’s 5-2 win over Cincinnati on Monday, but don’t expect him to say much about his elevated status to All-Star during his breakout 2017 season.
“It’s good,” he said. “I don’t really put that thought into it.”
Ray went 15-5 with a 2.98 ERA, striking out 218 in 162 innings over 28 starts. He was first in the National League in strikeouts per nine innings (12.11) and second in opponent’s batting average (.199).
Although he was working mainly on command and didn’t know what velocity he reached (he has reached the 97 mph range at his best), his stuff appeared formidable. He struck out three and walked one. Ray threw 32 pitches, 18 strikes.
“I’m still just getting ready for the season, still doing what I can to get ready and stay healthy and make every start every five days,” he said. “It’s just fine-tuning things at this point. Results aren’t a huge thing in spring training. But really it’s about today was just going out and trying to hone in that fastball command. I feel pretty good.”
Ray committed a throwing error on a pickoff attempt at first. The runner advanced to third with one out in the first inning but the lefty escaped the jam when Jesse Winker hit a soft line drive into a double play. The only other ball that was hit off Ray was a high foul that Avila made a circus catch as he flipped over the railing into the corner of the Cincinnati dugout.
Quite a play for a spring training game.
“I was just tracking the ball and I thought I had more room there,” Avila said. “I mean, I didn’t try to dive into the dugout.”
Avila, who signed with the Diamondbacks shortly before spring training began, recalled catching Ray a few times back in 2014 when the young pitcher appeared in spring training and a handful of games with Detroit.
“He’s a different pitcher now,” Avila said. “He’s been able to figure out what works for him. You can tell in the confidence he displays.”
Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Butcher said he saw “pretty much what I wanted to see” in Ray’s first start of the spring.
“Just go out there and establish your fastball, get that feel in the competition of the game, mix in your breaking ball,” Butcher said. “He did a lot of good things today. I thought he did a nice job.”
The Diamondbacks know they’ve got a strong 1-2 starting punch in Zack Greinke and Ray. Greinke had his first start of the spring on Sunday and manager Torey Lovullo is holding off naming an opening day starter. Ray’s rise makes it a tougher decision.
“The quality of his pitches has increased every year,” Butcher said. “So when I look at Robbie Ray, it’s like he’s graduating every year into a guy that he can be. There’s no reason to put any expectations on him. He knows what he’s capable of doing, we do as well, and he’s on a nice path where he is right now.”