SAN DIEGO -- Robbie Ray, who is unbeaten in five starts since returning from a concussion, looks to make it six in a row as the Diamondbacks look to avoid a three-game sweep at the hand of the Padres.
Ray (14-5, 2.74 ERA) has been sensational against the Padres, going 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA. Then again, he has been lights-out against a lot of teams this season.
At Phoenix on Sept. 10, Ray spun six innings of two-run ball with 12 strikeouts against San Diego. The time before that, he racked up 11 strikeouts when allowing one run in 6 2/3 innings. In a May encounter, the Padres waved the white flag after getting but two hits and striking out six times as Ray tossed 7 2/3 scoreless innings.
"This isn't rocket science," San Diego manager Andy Green said. "You have to force his pitches down.
"We have to lay off his fastball at the top of zone. You are not going to hit him up there. You have to force him to throw it down."
Ray is riding a streak of four games with at least 10 strikeouts. Since exiting the disabled list on Aug. 14 after recovering from a concussion, he is 5-0 with a 1.39 ERA in five starts.
"It's just quality secondary stuff," Lovullo said. "He's getting a ton of swing-and-misses with his breaking ball in the zone. A ton of swing-and-misses on breaking balls out of the zone. He has command of three pitches, and it's been consistent since he returned from his injury."
Ray's season hit pause on July 28 when he was struck in the head by a 108 mph line drive hit by the St. Louis Cardinals' Luke Volt. Ray missed a couple rotation turns and picked up where he left off.
"That is what stands out the most to me," Lovullo said. "He had a pretty significant injury, a scary injury that some pitchers don't come back from. But he worked hard. He stayed with it, and he shared how he was feeling and he came out the other side. He's been pretty impressive since his return."
Maybe even better as his arm took a breather.
"If you ask him, he might have a different answer, but I think the rest did him some good," Lovullo said. "I feel like he used it as a couple of turns off, and he didn't get too far away from it mentally. Physically, he just stepped right back into it, and fundamentally, he was exactly the same."
Dinelson Lamet (7-7, 4.15 ERA) opposes Ray, with the Padres (68-83) hoping his ERA continues to go into reverse. The rookie right-hander has shaved it in four consecutive starts.
Lamet was amiss in his first and only appearance facing the Diamondbacks on June 6 in Phoenix. He walked five batters and gave up five hits and nine runs (seven earned) in three innings.
"He really struggled with his command of the fastball," Green said. "That might have been his roughest outing of the year. His stuff will play against them; it will play against anybody. But he has to command his fastball."
The D-backs (87-65) have lost three in a row after Tuesday night's 6-2 defeat but didn't lose ground in the National League wild-card race. They lead the Colorado Rockies by 4 1/2 games for the first wild card. Their magic number to clinch a playoff berth remains at six -- a combination of their wins and Milwaukee losses.