Through the first quarter of the 2019 season, the Arizona Diamondbacks have been one of the surprise teams, currently sitting in second place in the NL West. To remain in contention for a Wild Card spot there are many scenarios that must go their way. One of the more important ones is for Robbie Ray to prove to everyone that he is one of the top number two starters in the game.
That hasn’t been the case so far. Through Sunday’s game, the lefty has made it through six full innings just twice in ten starts. Additionally, he has just one quality start in those 10 appearances. Ray needs to be more consistent in his starts.
Defining A Number Two Starter
The number two starter gives a team a good chance to win most of the time in games that they start. Normally, they pitch six to eight innings, giving up no more than two to three runs. Number two pitcher usually have two above average pitches and a third pitch they can mix in to fool batters. Also, they have command of their pitches and can manage a game well.
In a lot of ways, the number two starter is similar to a number one, just not as consistent or durable as a true ace. Still, these pitchers flash number one ability at times, though they may not sustain that performance start after start. They can certainly anchor your rotation if the number one is out for an extended period. As the number-two pitcher in the rotation, this is what’s expected of Robbie Ray.
Ray’s lack of consistency is nothing new. He is one of the premier strikeout pitchers in the league, but is also one of the worst with issuing walks. This year he has struggled with his command. That has elevated his pitch count thereby shortening his time on the mound. It is more disturbing considering the bullpen has been getting stretched thin recently and there looks to be no end soon for that. His spot in the rotation had been followed by Zack Godley, but he was removed from starting rotation. The future and reliability of whoever ends up in that position is still a concern for the team.
Last Season Did Not go Ray’s Way
The 2018 season was supposed to be the season the powerful left-handed starter stepped up and became a consistent number two pitcher. There was even talk that Ray could become the ace of the Diamondbacks. Instead, it was something of a lost season.
He spent two months on the disabled list (oblique injury) and when he did pitch, he was inconsistent. In 123.2 innings, he failed to pitch at least six innings 18 times in 24 starts. His BB/9 was the highest among pitchers who threw at least 120 innings. He demonstrated his inability to put batters away early in the count and his walks and home runs were up. Some even suggested he might be removed from the starting rotation.
Ray had a sensational 2017 season posting a 2.89 ERA with 218 strikeouts while going 15-5 in 28 starts He was a member of NL All-Star team and likely would have finished higher than seventh in the NL Cy Young Award balloting but he missed over month after being struck in the head by a line drive and was placed on the injured list. Though his 2018 season was not up to that standard, over his final eight starts in the 2018 season, he showed a glimpse of that 2017 form. He logged a 2.09 ERA, striking out 61 in 43 innings during those games. This is the Robbie Ray that the Diamondbacks need.
A healthy—and effective—Robbie Ray could be valuable in more ways than one for the Diamondbacks this season. He has a blazing fastball in the 92-95 MPH range (and has topped it out at 98 MPH). His primary off-speed pitches are a slider that averages about 85 and a curve ball that he throws around 84. He also has a change-up and a sinker but has moved away from those in favor of the curve.
Ray has shown the ability to be a difference-making force when he goes out every fifth day. An effective Robbie Ray would certainly increase the Diamondbacks’ chances to contend as much as any player on the roster could. The Diamondbacks need to be able to rely on him. If Ray can find his 2017 form and he pitches well, he will likely end up pitching in games that matter come September.
Outlook for Ray and the Rest of the Season
Numbers aside, Ray is one of the hardest-throwing left-handed starters in the game. However, for him to pitch to his potential, he needs some work. There is no question about Ray’s physical ability; he just needs to be consistent to emerge as a reliable starter for the Diamondbacks.
Whether he can make the necessary adjustments and improve his command and return to his 2017 form remains to be seen. Keeping the pitch count low is an obvious solution. For Ray, that means connecting on more of his secondary pitches and limiting walks. He has above average stuff, but needs to find his control. Most importantly, he needs to be able to pitch past six innings consistently. This is what the Diamondbacks need and expect from their number two pitcher.
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