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Ray paves way with 9-K day in return from DL

Special to MLB.com

NEW YORK -- The time between starts felt long. The first inning back went by fast -- strikeout, strikeout, strikeout.

"That's about as good as a first inning could go," D-backs left-hander Robbie Ray said Thursday, after a return to the mound that went very well for him and for his team.

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NEW YORK -- The time between starts felt long. The first inning back went by fast -- strikeout, strikeout, strikeout.

"That's about as good as a first inning could go," D-backs left-hander Robbie Ray said Thursday, after a return to the mound that went very well for him and for his team.

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Pitching in the Major Leagues for the first time since he was struck on the head by a Luke Voit line drive July 28 in St. Louis, Ray allowed just two hits and struck out nine in five innings to lead the D-backs to a 3-2 win over the Mets at Citi Field. He allowed a long home run to Yoenis Cespedes and threw a few more pitches than he would have liked (94), but all in all this was a start worth waiting for.

"That was an old familiar feeling he was giving us," manager Torey Lovullo said. "We really love everything he did."

The D-backs went 10-14 while Ray was on the disabled list, but they've held onto the top spot in the National League Wild Card race. Now they have an All-Star starter back entering the final month-plus of their push for the playoffs.

Ray felt fortunate he wasn't hurt worse by the Voit line drive. He was cleared by D-backs doctors two weeks ago, and made one rehab start for Class A Visalia on Aug. 17.

Video: ARI@STL: Ray takes comebacker off head, exits game

By the time he got to the mound Thursday, he said he had already put the injury behind him.

"It just felt like another game," he said. "Like I've said through the whole process, there haven't been any issues getting back on the mound."

He understands that there will be balls hit back through the middle -- and sure enough in the fourth inning, Mets shortstop Amed Rosario hit a liner that caught Ray on the right calf. He picked up the ball and threw to first for the out, remaining in the game after a brief mound visit from Lovullo and a member of the D-backs athletic training staff.

"It's going to happen," Ray said. "Comebackers are part of baseball."

So are strikeouts, and those are part of Ray's game. Last year, he became just the fourth pitcher in D-backs history to strike out 200 batters in a season. He's had as many as 13 strikeouts in a game this season, so it wasn't exactly a surprise when he began Thursday's game by punching out Juan Lagares, Michael Conforto and Cespedes in succession. But it was a welcome sight.

Video: ARI@NYM: Ray fans Cespedes to strike out the side

"You see that, it kind of reminded us what we're getting back," reliever Archie Bradley said.

Bradley can relate better than most to what Ray went through the last month. Two years ago, he was hit in the face by a Carlos Gonzalez line drive.

"I know what it's like," Bradley said. "To see him get through the first inning like that, it was like, 'He's back.'"

Lovullo spoke afterwards about how it was a good team win, and he was right. But this day and this game belonged to one D-back ahead of all the others. Ray was back.

Danny Knobler is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the D-backs on Thursday.

Arizona Diamondbacks