PHOENIX, Ariz – Robbie Ray is off to a 2-0 start with 30 strikeouts on the season. His team the Arizona Diamondbacks are off to a 13-8 start and sitting in second place.
“It’s always important to get off to a hot start. We’re in a good place right now. We’re feeling good and meshing together. The starters are doing really well. The bats are coming alive. The bullpen is coming in and shutting down games. It’s just really good,” said Ray.
Ray is entering his third season with the team. He was acquired in 2014 as a part of a three-team trade with the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees. He and Domingo Leyba came over from Tigers. The Yankees sent Shane Greene to Detroit. Arizona sent Didi Gregorius to New York.
His first season with Arizona was not an impressive one. With a record of 5-12, it was kind of hard to get excited about him being a part of the long-term plans of the Diamondbacks. Last season, that started to change. His record at 8-15 did not indicate it, but you saw indications of something special with him. The stat sheet wasn’t an eye opener, but Ray was focused on improving in 2017.
“You always want to go out there and win games for your team and be in a position to win games. I think that came as a personal goal for me. Wanting to get deeper into games. What was gonna allow me to get deeper into games, and going into spring training, what was I going to do to prepare for that.”
He realized his approach needed to change.
“It was landing another pitch in the zone. I feel I have done a pretty good job of doing that so far.”
Last season, his 218 strikeouts were something that no Arizona pitcher has done since 2008 when Dan Haren accomplished that with 204. Ray talked about the difference between last season and the start of this season.
“It’s a huge accomplishment. To get over 200 strikeouts in a season is tough. The hitters are good. You’re going to face lineups multiple times. They will have multiple looks at you. To do something like that was a big accomplishment.”
On having a goal of over 200 strikeouts, Ray was humble saying “It’s not a goal, it just kind of happens. It comes with your pitches getting better. Knowing yourself as a pitcher more. Getting deeper into games, allows you to get more strikeouts. It’s still an accomplishment.”
With every pitcher, the relationship with the pitching coach and the player is so important.
“This is the same here with Mike Butcher. We’ve developed a relationship over the past two years where we can be open with each other. It’s a two-way street and it’s been really good.”
Pitching Coach Butcher feels that the best of Ray is still to come.
“It’s a work in progress. I say that in a good way. He’s got the power fastball. He added a curveball last year. Cutter-slider, changeup, and were just trying to put it all together. Go into the season and maximize what he can do without trying to do too much. He worked a lot on his delivery, where it’s more repeatable so everything is coming out of the same socket to give more deception.”
Butcher acknowledged success last season.
“We saw some good things last year. You saw the high punch-out’s last year. He did a lot of good things. Really, the experience he had last year, coming into this season is going to help him a lot. “
Last year too many times Ray would only pitch into the fifth inning due to a high pitch count. This year has shown to be different. Manager Tory Lovullo commented:
“I’ve seen a guy that is on the attack. Knows how to make adjustments. He’s finishing hitters when he has to, not giving into hitters. With quality stuff, a three pitch mix which is above average. He’s working in the sixth and seventh inning at times and it’s a credit to what he has done to get to this point. “
As for last year, Lovullo didn’t allow that to affect his feeling on Ray as a player this year, and the process of him becoming a complete pitcher.
“He is a guy that is going out and executing pitches and the development is exactly where it should be. We are watching a guy go out there and perform and do his job very, very well.”
Teammates also see a difference in Ray this year.
“He’s been good. I think he’s just been a little more consistent this year so far. You have seen the upside probably his whole career, definitely here in Arizona. His upside is pretty unbelievable,” said Paul Goldschmidt.
As for being a top of the rotation type pitcher, “of course maybe even a number one. We need him and pitching is going to win. You need as many good pitchers as you can, and he’s done a great job for us.”
David Peralta was also impressed with Ray saying “He’s working really hard. The way he’s improving himself and doing a better job in making adjustments. His pitching is unbelievable. I feel every time he steps on the mound; he’s going to strikeout twenty people. He throws so hard with command. Right now he’s got the combination with breaking pitching and everything and doing more damage.”
The players that really have a good assessment of Ray have to be the catcher(s). This year, there are three catchers that Ray pitch to. Chris Herrmann, a teammate of Ray last season and this season has seen a more defined player in Ray.
“Last year was a learning curve for him. I know he struck out a lot of guys (218). This year, I feel he is just more mentally prepared. He’s maturing as a player. He’s learning how to pitch and go longer into the game. And that’s what we need out of Robbie. He’s got a great fastball, and his off-speed stuff has been fantastic this year. “
As previously mentioned, the Diamondbacks are carrying three catchers. Two catchers, they picked up as free agents were Jeff Mathis and Chris Iannetta. Both are proven veterans in the game and have something to help with the growth of Ray.
Mathis on Ray, “Robbie’s throwing the ball great. It’s pretty awesome to see. A guy that works hard, he prepares in between starts; obviously, it’s paying off out there on the mound. What I’ve seen over the last three months, he definitely has the capabilities of being at the top of the rotation. The stuff-wise, physically, mentally, and preparation shows that.”
It doesn’t end with that, as Iannetta, the third catcher on the roster also weighed in on Ray. “Seeing how his fastball explodes at the plate is impressive. The radar gun may only say 93-94, but it plays like 98-99. Then his off-speed stuff is really impressive. Seeing that has been a lot of fun when I’m catching and very entertaining when I watch him pitch. “
It goes back to Ray saying “Embracing who I am. Not trying to do too much. Having that extra year under my belt. I think is the biggest thing. “
We are seeing a pitcher grow into something special, and it’s just a matter how time before the rest of Major League Baseball sees the pitcher Ray is becoming. One day, he could easily compete for a CY-Young award before it’s all said and done.
The Diamondbacks are not just counting on him, but relishing on him becoming the player he is turning into.