MLB

D-backs' Ray emerges as strikeout ace but still working on efficiency

Feb 21, 2017; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Robbie Ray (38) poses for a photo during Spring Training Media Day at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 21, 2017; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Robbie Ray (38) poses for a photo during Spring Training Media Day at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With a devastating fastball, Robbie Ray can strike people out. He made that clear a year ago.

The problem the Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander had was staying in games long enough to make a difference, as well as giving up too many runs.

Only three lefties -- Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale and David Price -- had more strikeouts than the 25-year-old Ray last season. Ray's 219 strikeouts tied the New York Mets' Noah Syndergaard for ninth-most strikeouts in the majors overall.

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"It's obviously a compliment because there's a lot of good guys in that top 10," Ray said, "so just to be even mentioned with them is very humbling."

But strikeouts don't necessarily translate into success.

Ray was 8-15 with a 4.90 ERA. His fastball averaged about 94 mph, occasionally touching 97, and his strikeouts per nine innings were an impressive 11.3. His hits per nine innings, though, were an uninspiring 9.6.

So consistency and lasting deeper into games are the main goals this spring for Ray, who could wind up the No. 3 starter in the Arizona rotation. He worked on it a bit in his first start of the spring, facing the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday.

"Obviously, I need to work on landing another pitch in the zone when I can," Ray said. "So I think that was something I was able to do after Butch (pitching coach Mike Butcher) came out."

Ray said he threw "really good slider" to Tyler Saladino, the only batter he struck out in the six he faced.

Ray didn't allow a hit or run in 1 1-3 innings but walked three. Nineteen of his 35 pitches were strikes.

Not the greatest, new manager Torey Lovullo said.

"Overall I thought he did a great job of competing with men in scoring position and wriggling out of the first inning without giving up a run, but that's not really what we're evaluating," Lovullo said. "He didn't execute his pitches as perfectly as he wanted to. But like I've been saying to the rest of the guys. It's the first time they've been on the mound, they're probably a little excited and they haven't really found a rhythm yet."

Ray said he was "not worried at all."

"Maybe it was just the first time back on the mound, was a little jittery but I felt good, felt like the ball was coming out pretty good," he said. "I threw some good off-speed pitches today, so that was good, too."

Lovullo, coming over from the Boston Red Sox, knows only what he's seen and been told about Ray.

"We know that he's got a ton of swing and miss," Lovullo said before the game. "We want him to be effective with all of his pitches. Those are the common denominator of every successful pitcher. His first outing, just making sure that he feels comfortable, that he's using all those special keys that he and Mike Butcher are working on and build from there."

It's a bounce-back year for the entire Arizona rotation. All of them had off seasons, some worse than others. But Ray said the pitchers aren't dwelling on what happened in that 69-win season that led to the firing of manager Chip Hale.

"Not a whole lot of talking about last year," Ray said, "but just looking forward to the future and looking forward to this next year and just having a better overall year."

GAME NOTES

Ray wasn't the only Diamondbacks pitcher to struggle Wednesday. All told, they gave up 10 walks -- three by Ray, two each by Tom Wilhelmsen, Yuhei Nakaushiro and Caleb Fleck, and one by Kevin Jepsen.

Tyler Jones, a Rule 5 draft pick from the Yankees organization, was Arizona's most effective pitcher, striking out the side in the fifth inning without allowing a base-runner. Evan Marshall and Jared Miller also pitched 1-2-3 innings.

Jake Lamb had two hits to lead the D-backs at the plate. He doubled in the second and scored on a Chris Owings single to give the D-backs a 1-0 lead. They stretched it to 2-0 in the third when Chris Iannetta doubles, moved up on a flyout and scored on David Peralta's sacrifice fly.

Jepsen gave up a solo home run in his inning of work. The White Sox scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth off of Fleck, getting a two-out, bases-loaded single from Leury Garcia.