D-backs counting on Ray to return to form 

March 23rd, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- In 2017, was one of the best pitchers in the National League. In 2018, the D-backs left-hander battled an oblique injury and inconsistency. Which Ray will they see this year?

The D-backs believe it will be the 2017 version.

“Very confident,” D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said of Ray, who fanned 11 in 5 1/3 innings in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Giants. “He’s a really good pitcher. Worked his butt off all offseason and looks good right now. I think where he’s at right now, physically, and what he’s showing us, I’m very confident.”

Spring Training statistics are often misleading, but what the D-backs like about Ray is that it looks like the velocity on his fastball is back to where it was in 2017, and at the end of 2018.

“This year, he’s a different guy,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said, referring to the 2019 version of Ray. “His stuff is really standing out, it’s coming out hot and I know he worked hard to make that happen. So we’re looking for him to have a big year.”

Ray was 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 28 starts in 2017, and likely would have finished higher than seventh in the NL Cy Young Award balloting had he not missed nearly a month after being struck in the head by a line drive on July 28 in St. Louis.

Last season, Ray’s velocity was down a tick during Spring Training and he compiled a 4.88 ERA before straining his oblique muscle, costing him two months.

When he came back, he said his mechanics were off, which hampered both his velocity and his control.

Something, though, clicked down the stretch, as he had a 2.09 ERA over his final eight starts.

The D-backs believe that the mechanical adjustment he made has carried over to the spring, which sets him up for success. The team needs a good year from Ray for a couple of different reasons.

First and foremost, if he pitches as he is capable, then he and ace Zack Greinke will give the D-backs a potent one-two punch atop their rotation.

If those two are racking up innings, then it will help take some pressure off the bullpen, as well as their fellow starters.

And should the D-backs struggle out of the gate, they could look to start more of a rebuilding phase, rather than the retooling they say they are doing now.

In that case, Ray, with one year of arbitration left, could be a very enticing chip at the Trade Deadline and net the D-backs some young talent for the future.

So, whether they contend or not, a good year by Ray is big for the D-backs.