PHOENIX -- Zack Greinke has the title of ace for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but that might change in 2018 if Robbie Ray continues his development.The D-backs left-hander had a breakout year in 2017 thanks to adding a curveball to his repertoire prior to the season and pair of mechanical changes
PHOENIX -- Zack Greinke has the title of ace for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but that might change in 2018 if Robbie Ray continues his development.
The D-backs left-hander had a breakout year in 2017 thanks to adding a curveball to his repertoire prior to the season and pair of mechanical changes he made in May.
Ray picked up the pace between pitches while making sure to not rush his delivery. The results were nothing short of extraordinary.
In his final 20 starts after making those adjustments, Ray was 16-4 with a 2.24 ERA and he limited opponents to a .185 mark.
Ray's development comes at an excellent time for the D-backs as they look toward 2018.
Another ace-like season from Ray would go a long way toward taking some pressure off Greinke's 34-year-old shoulders. Ray threw just 162 innings last season but that was due to him missing almost a month after being struck in the head by a line drive on July 29.
Then there is Ray's success against the National League West.
One of the keys to Arizona winning the top NL Wild Card spot was its performance within the division.
The D-backs went 45-31 against the NL West last season, and for just the second time in franchise history, they posted winning records against all four of their division rivals.
And if they hope to make the postseason again next season, they will likely have to play well in the NL West given that three of its teams advanced last year.
Ray was a big part of that, going 9-2 against division foes. Most impressive was his dominance of the Dodgers, against whom he went 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA.
Scrapping his changeup and going instead with a curve as a change-of-pace pitch to go along with his slider was also big for Ray and something that he looks to build on in 2018.
The curve gave him a pitch other than his fastball that he could drop in for a strike when needed.
In addition, Ray was extremely adept at making batters chase it. According to Statcast™, Ray gained 57 swinging strikes last year on non-borderline pitches (fifth-most among all MLB pitchers) -- mostly way below the zone. He yielded just a .190 batting average on the pitch.
At age 26, Ray appears to be heading into the prime of his career, and the timing is perfect for a D-backs team hoping to play deep into October.
Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.