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D-backs find Ray of light in tough loss to Cubs

Starter demonstrates value to postseason chase before club hurt by errors late
MLB.com @SteveGilbertMLB

CHICAGO -- The D-backs lost, 2-1, to the Cubs on Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but more importantly for them going forward was the way Robbie Ray pitched.

The left-hander allowed just four hits and one run over seven innings. It's the best the left-hander has pitched since he tossed six shutout innings against the Marlins on June 27, his first start after coming off a two-month stint on the disabled list.

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CHICAGO -- The D-backs lost, 2-1, to the Cubs on Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but more importantly for them going forward was the way Robbie Ray pitched.

The left-hander allowed just four hits and one run over seven innings. It's the best the left-hander has pitched since he tossed six shutout innings against the Marlins on June 27, his first start after coming off a two-month stint on the disabled list.

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In last season's run to the postseason, Ray was a dominant force for the D-backs, going 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA.

"We need him to do that," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "We know that he was one of our best pitchers last year, I think he remembers that, and when he does something like that, I think it's a good sign for all of us."

Video: ARI@CHC: Ray strikes out Contreras, the side in 1st

This year, he wasn't quite able to find that same consistency, and he sustained a strained oblique on April 29 that landed him on the DL.

It's no secret why Ray was so effective Wednesday -- he was able to throw his curveball for strikes.

The development of that pitch last year -- to go along with his fastball and tight, hard slider -- was a difference-maker for him.

"When I get my curveball over, the slider comes out the same slot," Ray said. "So being able to throw that curveball for a strike just makes my slider better, too."

Of the 97 pitches he threw, 25 were curves. Eight of those were called strikes, and he got four swinging strikes.

For whatever reason, Ray has gotten away from throwing the curve, having used it a combined 10 times in his last two starts. Not surprisingly, the last time it felt as good as it did Wednesday was the game against the Marlins.

"I felt like I threw it quite a bit that game, and it's a pitch that works for me," Ray said. "So when I get away from throwing it, then I become a two-pitch pitcher, and guys can sit on my fastball. I can throw it for strikes better than my slider, and I can also bounce it late when I need to. It's definitely a pitch that, when I throw it, it works well. It just makes all the other pitches better."

Video: ARI@CHC: Ahmed makes strong throw to nab Rizzo in 3rd

Last year, Ray combined with Zack Greinke at the top of the rotation to form a potent duo, and with the D-backs locked in another battle for the postseason this year, an effective Ray is key.

"We can't do what we did last year without Robbie," Lovullo said. "He's got to embrace that, and I think he does. He loves that challenge, and I'm just enjoying the ride with him right now."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Rare error: As Ray dueled with an equally stingy Jon Lester, the D-backs finally broke through with a game-tying home run from A.J. Pollock in the seventh inning, his 13th home run of the season. But Arizona gave the lead back in the eighth, and it proved to be decisive.

Video: ARI@CHC: Pollock clubs game-tying solo homer in 7th

With no outs, pinch-runner Tyler Chatwood at second and Ian Happ at first -- following a throwing error by reliever T.J. McFarland on pinch-hitter Javier Baez's leadoff infield single -- Jason Heyward hit a grounder to second baseman Ketel Marte. Marte flipped to Nick Ahmed, who grabbed the ball with his bare hand and attempted to throw in the same motion. The ball sailed over first baseman Paul Goldschmidt's head, allowing Chatwood to score what proved to be the winning run.

Video: ARI@CHC: Cubs capitalize on errors, take lead in 8th

"I did not have a good grip," Ahmed said. "In hindsight, I probably should have -- even if I did have a good grip -- not throw it. Heyward runs well and didn't hit it too hard. Just made a mistake. It was a big spot in the game, and I was trying to make a play and I forced it a little too much. I'm going to learn from that mistake and just have a better sense of the baserunner, how hard the ball is hit and just not try to force it."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Ahmed and Marte were at their best in the fourth, when Marte fielded a grounder from Addison Russell and flipped the ball with his glove to Ahmed, who grabbed it barehanded and threw as he crossed the base for a double play. At the time, the play was huge, as the Cubs had already scored a run on three consecutive hits and were primed for a big inning.

Video: ARI@CHC: Marte, Ahmed turn smooth double play in 4th

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Immediately following the sparkling double play, D-backs catcher John Ryan Murphy blocked a ball in the dirt and back-picked Ben Zobrist at third base, where he had crept too far down the line. Originally ruled safe, the D-backs challenged, and the call was overturned, which ended the inning and kept the D-backs within one run.

Video: ARI@CHC: Murphy picks off Zobrist on overturned call

HE SAID IT
"Ordinarily we play exceptional defense, and for us to break down in a couple of key areas, we don't expect it. We have to get over it and come out here tomorrow and win a series." -- Lovullo, on the two errors in the decisive eighth inning

UP NEXT
The D-backs close out their four-game series with the Cubs on Thursday at 11:20 a.m. MST, with Zack Godley (11-6, 4.65 ERA) on the mound. Godley allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits over five innings in his last outing against the Rockies, but he was outstanding in the two starts prior to that, allowing just two runs over 12 innings. Godley was acquired by the D-backs from the Cubs on Dec. 9, 2014. Godley will be opposed by Chatwood (4-5, 4.84 ERA).

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Nick Ahmed, A.J. Pollock, Robbie Ray