SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Unless you were in the stands at Surprise Stadium on Thursday, you’ll have to wait to see Robbie Ray’s revamped delivery.
Ray plans to pitch with an over-the-top motion out of the windup this season -- a Max Scherzer, Jack Flaherty-esque movement that he hopes will help him create better timing and a more direct finish to the plate. The genesis of the change began in part with a recent consultation with former D-backs ace Zack Greinke.
Greinke has many moving parts in his mechanics, which are widely recognized as among the game’s most polished. Ray isn’t attempting to mirror Greinke, who delivers from his chest and not over his head, but instead emulate him.
“I've always been a huge admirer of him and his delivery,” Ray said of Grienke. “It seems like he's dancing on the mound, the way he's deliberate with everything, and so I just wanted to have a little bit of that feel of a dancing move. … I didn't ask him why he did it. I was just kind of telling him that I liked his delivery because it just seemed so fluid."
Ray took the insights from Greinke and applied them with his trainer, Ken Roberts, who suggested the over-the-head approach after Ray’s first Spring Training bullpen session. Had those conversations not taken place, Ray said he was planning to pitch exclusively from the stretch.
“For me, going over the head, it allows me to have that feeling of not getting stuck in my delivery like I used to, but also have some fluidity to it," said Ray. "[Roberts] said, ‘Have you tried going over the top with your delivery?’ And I said, ‘I do when I'm playing catch, but I just feel like a goober almost because nobody does it anymore.'”
The refined mechanics were in motion when Ray threw 14 first-pitch strikes to the 15 batters he faced in Arizona’s non-televised 11-9 win over the Rangers. Ray gave up a solo homer to Adolis García to lead off the third and only two other singles, and otherwise was pitching via windup.
This is the time of year where pitchers toy with tweaks to their mechanics, and Ray’s adjustment certainly might not be permanent. But as he eyes free agency at season’s end, and with the realistic possibility he could be traded if the D-backs tumble out of contention, the former All-Star is trying to keep an edge.
Leake fans five in sim game
Back at Salt River Fields, Mike Leake threw 68 pitches over four innings in a simulated game behind a screen, with a trainer catching return tosses from touted catching prospect Daulton Varsho. Leake -- who is still sporting a cast for his recovering left wrist fracture -- will next need to begin catching baseballs to increase the impact his wrist can withstand.
“People have been flipping me balls and it's been feeling normal,” Leake said. “It's basically feeling normal to catch the ball. It's not a line-drive impact. I can throw to essentially 45 feet and throw fine. So I guess that's a progression.”
Before Thursday, there had only been so much that the club could glean from Leake’s simulated bullpens. D-backs general manager Mike Hazen even tempered Leake’s expectations of being ready for the club’s first turn through the rotation in three weeks. But Leake maintained his self conviction after striking out five, including three looking, while showing bite with each of his six pitches.
“They don't have to worry that I'm not going to be game ready,” Leake said. “I think the 10 years have prepared me to get game ready for the first day, mentally. Physically, I know it's a different story. But mentally, I think it's not something that I'll have to work on.”
Talent-wise, and with the development of Zac Gallen and Luke Weaver, Leake will likely slide down to Arizona’s No. 5 starter, but his consistency could prove invaluable. Chewing up close to 200 innings, as Leake did last season, would help the D-backs more conservatively bring along Gallen and Weaver -- both of whom will be on limits this year.
• Catcher Stephen Vogt exited Thursday’s game early after being plunked on his right elbow by Rangers pitcher James Jones. Vogt iced his elbow and said that he should be fine by Friday.
• First baseman Kevin Cron snapped an 0-for-16 skid to start Spring Training with a 3-for-3 day that included a towering homer to left in the fourth inning off Joely Rodríguez. Cron (Arizona’s No. 26 prospect) crushed a Minor League-best 39 homers last season, but he will assuredly begin the year in the Minors, with Jake Lamb vying for the backup corner infield spot.
D-backs non-roster invitee Miguel Aguilar will climb the hill for his first Cactus League start and fourth overall appearance when Arizona hosts Colorado at the clubs' shared facility at Salt River Fields. Aguilar, who is coming off a 2.12 ERA season at Double-A Jackson last season and a strong showing in last year’s Arizona Fall League, features a low-90s fastball that he pairs with a hard slider.