MIAMI -- Strikeout wizard Robbie Ray wasted little time returning to form in Wednesday's 2-1 win over Miami at Marlins Park. Making his first start since April 29, after landing on the DL with a strained right oblique, Ray fanned six over six scoreless innings and used his patented slider to keep the Marlins off balance throughout. He gave up just two singles.
Ray improved to 3-0 this season and is now 9-0 over his last 15 starts dating back to 2017.
"That was about as good as it could have been," said Ray, who came into the game averaging 14.64 strikeouts per nine innings this season. "There were no reservations the whole game. I just went out there every inning and gave it all I had. I wasn't holding anything back. I was just going out pitching my game."
Ray's victory was in jeopardy in the ninth, as closer Brad Boxberger surrendered a leadoff home run to Starlin Castro, then put Brian Anderson on first base with a walk. But Boxberger managed to strike out pinch-hitter Justin Bour, then retired Lewis Brinson and Derek Dietrich to seal his 19th save in 23 opportunities.
"Closing games and getting those last three outs can be very difficult," said D-backs manager Torey Lovullo. "Closers get clipped every once in a while. I think Brad did a good job of pulling it together. That's what all good closers go through and good closers come out the other end."
Opponents had whiffed on 56.36 percent of Ray's sliders they had swung at coming into the game, which was second-highest only to teammate Patrick Corbin (56.43) in the National League. Of his 83 pitches (56 strikes) 20 were sliders, with five swings and misses on the pitch.
Although he threw just four sliders through the first three innings -- with no swinging strikes -- Ray faced the minimum thanks to a slick 5-4-3 double play in the third inning to offset an infield single by Marlins third baseman Yadiel Rivera. It caromed off the glove of his counterpart, D-backs third baseman Deven Marrero, who made up for it by starting the subsequent double play.
It took Ray eight sliders for him to record his first swinging strike with the pitch, getting Cameron Maybin to whiff on one in the fourth inning. But he effectively unveiled his slider the second time through the Marlins' lineup, throwing it 13 times in a 24-pitch fourth inning.
The pitch got him out of his only real jam after walking the first two batters to open the fourth. He used the slider to strike out Brinson, one of four swings and misses on the pitch that inning, and then struck out Dietrich looking on a fastball to close out the frame.
Ray's fastball wasn't too shabby either, as he threw it 42 times; 32 for strikes with an average velocity of 92.6 mph according to Statcast™.
"I know that we all remember him throwing fastballs in the 95-mph range," said Lovullo. "I'll take 92.5 for that type of outing. There's minimal concern for me with the velocity. He's coming back off an injury and I'm sure he wasn't absolutely tearing it apart trying to throw the ball through the wall. Eventually he'll get there."
And the curveball was sharp as well.
"I was able to back-door the curveball to right-handed hitters and they were a pretty right-handed-heavy lineup tonight," Ray said. "So that was really working for me to be able to back-door that. They were giving up on it or putting some bad swings on it. That was kind of the game plan."
Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen (2-5) kept Miami in the game, going six innings while allowing just one run. The ultimate Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Chen came into the contest with a 9.85 ERA in seven road starts but 2.53 in four home starts (six earned runs over 21 1/3 innings).
Chen was perfect into the fourth inning until he surrendered a two-out walk to Paul Goldschmidt. John Ryan Murphy followed with Arizona's first hit, an infield single.
The D-backs finally broke through in the fifth inning, breaking a scoreless tie with three consecutive hits. Ketel Marte opened the frame with a double and Chris Owings singled. Marrero came through with an RBI knock, scoring Marte, but Owings was thrown out at the plate by Brinson.
Daniel Descalso made it 2-0 with his sixth career pinch-hit homer to open the eighth inning off Marlins reliever Adam Conley.
"I felt like I've always had a good approach against lefties," Descalso said. "Conley's a tough lefty. He fell behind, 2-0, and I was looking for something out over the middle and he left a fastball that I could handle pretty easily."
Yoshihisa Hirano pitched a perfect eighth inning to extend his scoreless appearances streak to 24 games, tying the club's all-time mark (J.J. Putz in 2012 and Brandon Lyon in '08).
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
In only one of Ray's six scoreless innings did the Marlins put a runner in scoring position. A pair of walks to open the fourth inning gave Miami hope. But Ray promptly got Maybin to softly ground out, then struck out Brinson and Dietrich back to back to end the inning.
"That was a huge pitch to be able to get that pitch by [Dietrich] after he put a good at-bat on me, fouled off some really good pitches," Ray said. "To be able to do that and get out of that inning was huge."
D-backs pitching allowed just three hits, tying the fewest allowed to the Marlins in club history. It's happened six times total, the last one being on June 12, 2016, at Chase Field.
HE SAID IT
"He's so prepared for every moment. Left on left doesn't faze him. That home run was the difference in the game. -- Lovullo, on Descalso's clutch home run off of Conley
Zack Greinke looks to continue his mastery of the Marlins when he takes the mound on Thursday for an early 9:10 a.m. MST start. Greinke has won three straight road starts and is 6-0 lifetime vs. the Marlins, including a 3-0 (0.79 ERA) mark at Marlins Park. Miami counters with right-hander Trevor Richards, who will be making his first career appearance against the D-backs.