Escobar, Ray break out as D-backs sweep

August 17th, 2020

As ’s two-out three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning sailed over the right-field wall at Chase Field with what would prove to be the winning margin, starter , inside the clubhouse watching on TV with some fellow pitchers, let out a huge cheer.

Ray and Escobar -- both trying to fix some mechanical issues -- played big roles in the D-backs’ 5-4 win over the Padres, a victory that brought the D-backs back to .500 for the first time since Opening Day and gave them a sweep over the Padres.

Here’s a look at what each went through to get to Sunday:

Robbie Ray
There’s no other way to say it: The 2020 season has been a struggle for Ray, who entered the game with a 10.59 ERA over his first four starts.

Ray tweaked his delivery during the offseason, going above his head with his hands, shortening his step back and not having his arm swing as long in his delivery. After struggling at the start of the season, Ray added another change -- a glove tap during the delivery.

On Sunday, he scrapped all but the shortened arm swing and had mixed results.

On the plus side, he struck out six, including getting Jorge Mateo swinging at a slider for the first out of the third inning to record the 1,000th of his career. Ray reached the mark in fewer games than any left-hander in baseball history since 1913, outside of Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who won four National League Cy Young Awards while pitching for the D-backs.

It took Ray 154 games to reach the milestone. Johnson did it in 152 games. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is third on the list, having reached 1,000 strikeouts in 155 games.

Also on the positive side for Ray was that he did not allow a hit in his five innings of work.

Clearly, though, some things remain a work in progress because he matched a career high with six walks. He also hit a batter and threw two wild pitches.

“I felt good,” Ray said. “I felt like everything was coming out good. My pitches were moving the way I wanted to. I just tried to pick up the tempo a little bit.

“Going overhead, I wasn’t able to get the same kind of tempo I’ve had in the past. I took kind of a more direct step straight back. I feel like with the glove tap I was -- I don’t know, I might have been tipping my pitches. The ball was coming in and out of the glove a little early.”

With Madison Bumgarner on the injured list and Luke Weaver still looking to rediscover his form, the D-backs desperately need Ray to put it all together.

“We’re waiting for this thing to click because when it does, he’s really good,” manager Torey Lovullo said.

Eduardo Escobar
While Ray has worked on his mechanics, Escobar has toiled recently doing early work with hitting coaches Darnell Coles, Eric Hinske and Drew Hedman.

After hitting 35 home runs and driving in 118 runs last year as a key cog in the Arizona lineup, Escobar has been in a funk from Opening Day.

Heading into this series, his average has slipped to .169 with just two extra-base hits all year. Lovullo gave him a rare rest on Friday, and he put in even more time doing extra work. The problem was that he was “jumping” at the ball striding too quickly throwing off his timing at the plate.

“I talked to you guys a couple of days ago,” Escobar said. “I said to you guys, I was struggling a little bit, still working hard. I said to you guys, ‘I’ll become a different guy.’ I told you guys I was jumping at the ball, but now I’m staying back and it’s different.”

On Saturday night, he was back in the lineup and started his revival with three walks and two runs scored. On Sunday, he had three hits, including the big blow in the eighth that had the D-backs' dugout yelling and Ray screaming from inside the clubhouse.

Escobar is known for his infectious energy -- the team wears T-shirts with his catch phrase, “I’m proud of you. Congratulations!” -- and his teammates badly wanted to see him snap out of his slump.

“These guys pushed me a lot,” Escobar said. “These guys gave me a lot of energy even though I wasn’t hitting a lot. They pushed me. I’m so happy and glad I got that home run in the eighth inning and put my team ahead. That’s what’s most important to me.”