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Ray steals spotlight, deals D-backs past Cards

MLB.com @SteveGilbertMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Robbie Ray swears it wasn't on his mind when he took the Busch Stadium mound Thursday night, but that seems hard to believe.

Last July, on that same mound, the left-hander was struck on the side of the head by a 108-mph line drive, which gave him a concussion that put him on the disabled list for a month.

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ST. LOUIS -- Robbie Ray swears it wasn't on his mind when he took the Busch Stadium mound Thursday night, but that seems hard to believe.

Last July, on that same mound, the left-hander was struck on the side of the head by a 108-mph line drive, which gave him a concussion that put him on the disabled list for a month.

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On Thursday, Ray didn't seem to have his best command, but he found a way to pitch out of jams in an effective six-inning outing in a 3-1 win in front of a sellout crowd in the Cardinals' home opener.

"I kind of just put it behind me," Ray said of last year's injury. "It's something that happened, and it's over. I just kind of approached it like a normal game. It wasn't anything different. It was just another game."

Video: ARI@STL: Ray induces 6-4-3 double play to retire side

While Ray was dominant for much of last year, 2018 has been a little different so far. He got the win in his first start, despite giving up seven runs (six earned) over five innings against the Rockies last Friday.

This time, the numbers were better, but Ray still struggled with his command, missing up and away to righties with his fastball and walking five. However, he struck out nine and allowed just one run on two hits.

There are two elements to Ray's command issues. The first is mechanical. In his first start -- and early in this one -- he was hunching over too much when he started his delivery. When he does that, he doesn't drive straight to the plate and instead flies open a bit, and the ball drifts up and away to righties.

The second issue comes in his mental approach.

"I think just trying to create it, instead of just letting it flow," Ray said. "I think that's the biggest thing. Trying to make a pitch too nasty or trying to throw a 100-mph fastball in the second game of the year, that's not my game. I do a lot better when I can command in the zone with my fastball at 95 percent. I was just trying to do too much."

One of the biggest keys for Ray last year was when he scrapped his changeup and instead added a curve to go with his fastball and slider. When he struggled in his first start against the Rockies, he threw just three curves. On Thursday, he threw 31.

"My slider was really good my last game," Ray said. "I was kind of leaning on that a little more and not really going to the curveball. It's one of those things where I've got to understand that if I throw [the curveball], it's going to get the results I wanted."

Ray was backed by a pair of RBIs from David Peralta, and Ray helped his own cause with a sacrifice fly in the second.

Video: ARI@STL: Peralta doubles home Owings to extend lead

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Double jeopardy: Ray twice walked himself into jams. And both times, he used his strikeout stuff to escape. Spotted two runs in the top of the second, Ray allowed a single to Marcell Ozuna before walking Jose Martinez to begin the bottom of the inning. After Yadier Molina lined out, Ray struck out Paul DeJong and Yairo Munoz to end the threat. Two innings later, Ray again faced DeJong and Munoz with two runners on, and he again struck both out to limit the damage.

"He made pitches when he had to and got some big outs," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "That's a credit to Robbie. I don't think he has a back-down mentality. He stood on his stuff when he really needed it and made pitches when he had to."

Big spot: The Cardinals' last chance to get back in the game came in the eighth, when Ozuna came to the plate representing the tying run. Lovullo called for Archie Bradley, who fanned Ozuna looking at a 97-mph fastball in the bottom of the zone to end the inning.

"It's one of the key factors to our success so far this season," Lovullo said of the bullpen. "They know their roles. They come in and they execute very, very well. When you're in a 3-1 game against a team like this in a visiting ballpark, you really try to stop that momentum. Our pitchers did a great job of standing on their stuff and getting big outs."

Video: ARI@STL: Bradley caches Ozuna looking to end the 8th

QUOTABLE
"You hold this team to two hits on opening night, it's pretty special. A good vibe in here. There always is, but tonight is a little more special." -- Lovullo, on the Cardinals' home opener

Video: ARI@STL: Lovullo on Ray's strong start against Cards

BEING A FAN
Ray took a break from his pregame warmup to watch the Opening Night ceremonies at Busch Stadium, which included Cardinals Hall of Famers such as Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Whitey Herzog, Bruce Sutter, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa. There was also an appearance by the Budweiser Clydesdales.

"It was kind of cool to see all the Hall of Famers come around in the cars," said Ray, who grew up a Cardinals fan in Tennessee. "Obviously, some really great guys in the game. It's my first opening series here to ever see it. It was really cool to see the parade going."

Video: ARI@STL: D-backs' lineup announced at Cards' opener

WHAT'S NEXT
The D-backs have a rare scheduled Friday off before resuming their three-game series with the Cardinals on Saturday afternoon at Busch Stadium at 11:15 a.m. MST. Shortstop Nick Ahmed, who has been out for three games with flu-like symptoms, should be back in the lineup. Zack Greinke will start for the D-backs. The right-hander allowed one run over 5 2/3 innings in his first start against the Rockies last Saturday.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Robbie Ray