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2018 Arizona Diamondbacks Player Reviews: #12, Robbie Ray

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2018 was supposed to be the season the powerful left-handed starter stepped up and became a true ace pitcher. Instead, it was something of a lost season.

Atlanta Braves v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

2018 Rating: 6.38

2017 Rating: 9.28 (-2.90)

2018 Performance: 24 G, 123.2 IP, 6-2, 3.93 ERA, 4.31 FIP, 110 ERA+, 12.0 K/9, 5.1 BB/9, 19 HR, 1.4 bWAR, 1.3 fWAR

2018 $3,950,000

2019 Status: Arbitration-2 (est. $6,100,000)

2018 is a season that Robbie Ray would probably choose to forget if he could. In Ray’s very first appearance of the season, the left-hander managed to surrender seven runs (six earned) on seven hits and three walks in five innings of work. At the end of the day, the man who was being looked at as an emerging ace in baseball had an ERA north of 10.50. In his next four outings, Ray was alternately good and bad. In his good starts, he was able to pitch six full innings and limit the opposition to two or fewer runs. In both of the other starts, Ray went 4.2 innings while allowing three earned runs. In both of those games, his pitch count resulted in an early exit and extra work for the bullpen. Then, on April 29, as he took the mound to make his sixth start of the season, things turned from bad to worse for Ray. Only four outs and 20 pitches into the game, Ray was taken out due to injury. He had strained his oblique.

Ray spent the next eight weeks on the DL. During that time Arizona was forced to deal with a number of rotation issues. Part of the solution for the problems was Robbie Ray. Set to make his last rehab appearance, Robbie Ray was preparing to fly with the Reno Aces to Las Vegas when he received a phone call informing him he needed to instead be heading to South Beach. Rather than making a final rehab start against a AAA team with little chance of hitting ihs stuff, Ray was brought back to start against the Miami Marlins on June 27. Ray’s first start back from injury was a much better one than his first start of the season. In a game where Torey Lovullo anticipated having to keep a close, careful eye on Ray, his starter threw six innings of shutout ball, striking six and only walking two. What was more was, he managed to do it all with only 83 pitches.

Ray’s next four outings did not go so well. Old, familiar demons came back to haunt Ray. Once again, Ray was demonstrating an inability to put batters away early in the count. His average pitches per batter rose as he started trying to pain the corners rather than attacking the zone. Walks were up. Home runs were up. Opponent scoring was up. Despite the lack of pitching depth in the Arizona system, Robbie Ray looked to be pitching his way right out of the rotation.

Then, in late-July, Ray took the mound in Chicago against the Cubs. The Diamondbacks were still pacing the field for the NL West and the Cubs were looking good to make the playoffs themselves. In a game against a competitive team, Ray went seven innings, walking only one and allowing only four hits. It was one of his best outings of the year, the second time he had managed a game score of 70 or higher.

That game in Chicago seemed to be a turning of the page for Ray. Over his final 12 starts after that game, Ray only failed to pitch five or more innings in two of his outings. One of those was the Diamondbacks’ final game of the season, a game where it can be argued that Arizona was not exactly trying terribly hard. They fielded what was mostly a C-squad for the game and pulled Ray after he allowed two runs in four innings of work. Even with that poor outing, over the final 13 starts of the season, Ray pitched to a 2.83 ERA and averaged over 5.1 innings per outing. Included in that stretch was a second face-off against the Cubs where he pitched six full innings of shutout ball and struck out eight for another game score of 70+. This came on September 19, when the Cubs were fighting for their postseason lives.

While the final outing of the season for Ray and the Diamondbacks was not a good one, Ray can still hang his hat on turning his season around over the last two 10 weeks of the season. While still not pitching into the seventh inning with regularity, Ray was once again an arm that could b relied upon to give a quality outing. The team’s lack of offense had far more to do with its struggles in Ray’s final 13 starts than any struggles Ray may or may not have been having.

Outlook

If and when Zack Grienke is traded this winter, Ray will more or less slot as the team’s number one pitcher for the opening of the 2019 season. He’s due another raise through arbitration, but will still only be making a touch over $6 million. If the Robbie Ray of the final 23 of 2017 and the last 10 weeks of 2018 shows up, the Diamondbacks will be in a good place with him atop the rotation. If, once again, Ray struggles to put away hitters and finds himself unable to work into the fifth and sixth innings, then the Diamondbacks will have themselves a classic five-and-dive pitcher that should slot into the middle of a rotation more than the top. With the team only controlling Ray through 2020, there is also a strong chance that Ray could be traded, either this winter, or at the trade deadline - especially if he performs well early in the season. Assuming Ray is with the team on opening day (the most likely outcome) and that he shows his late-2018 form, expect him to be one of the most-discussed potential trade pieces in baseball until he is traded, extended, or the deadline passes.