MILWAUKEE -- Ray Black is accustomed to hearing an occasional murmur from the crowd when he’s on the mound, a sign that triple digits just appeared on the stadium radar gun. But Black is intent on being a pitcher, and not just a thrower.
The Brewers called up the 29-year-old right-hander from Triple-A on Wednesday, exactly two weeks after acquiring him alongside left-hander Drew Pomeranz in a trade that sent infield prospect Mauricio Dubon to San Francisco.
Another Trade Deadline acquisition, Jake Faria, was optioned back to San Antonio to clear a spot for Black.
Black made his Brewers debut in the sixth inning of Wednesday's 6-5 victory over the Twins. He yielded a triple to pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza, but received defensive assistance from third baseman Mike Moustakas, who turned an unassisted double play behind Black.
“I’ve always thrown pretty hard for most of my career. I actually used to throw harder when I was at Double-A,” Black said. “It’s one of those things -- we were talking the other day when [Yankees closer] Aroldis Chapman had that 13-pitch at-bat with [Blue Jays rookie] Vlad Guerrero Jr. People were saying, ‘Man, Chapman’s ball must just not look the same, or he must be doing something different.’ But I think what’s happening is hitters see the upper 90s fastball a lot more often than when Chapman first got in the league. I’ve learned that I can’t just live with that fastball.
“It’s my bread and butter. It’s my go-to pitch. If I get beat, I want to get beat with that. But I think the biggest thing is still, even being a velo guy, being able to mix pitches. As fun as it is sometimes to throw triple digits, or sometimes you hear people in the crowd murmuring and you’re like, ‘Maybe I hit 100 there,’ it’s still pitching.”
So Black works with a slider and a curveball in addition to his fastball. Two things have held him back in his career to date: Health and consistency. He underwent Tommy John surgery during his senior year of high school in Pennsylvania. Then, after the Giants drafted him in 2011, Black suffered a shoulder injury and didn’t pitch a professional inning until 2014.
Once healthy, he began posting impressive strikeout numbers -- 16.6 whiffs per nine innings in parts of six Minor League seasons -- but has also walked nearly six batters per nine innings. He made 26 appearances in the big leagues for San Francisco last season and two more this year. He entered his Brewers tenure with a 1.263 WHIP and a 6.04 ERA across 25 1/3 Major League innings.
“These last couple years of for me are the most that I’ve thrown and the best that I’ve thrown, and I’m just looking to kind of continue that,” Black said. “The more innings you get, the more polished you’ll be. Baseball’s a craft sport; it’s a skill. It’s not necessarily a lineman versus a lineman where whoever can push or is the biggest [wins]. It’s what kind of skill can you bring to the table? The more reps I’ve been able to get over the last few years, the better I’ve been able to be as a pitcher.”