By Craig Flagg
For any young pitcher out there who may be hoping to jump on the fast track to the big leagues, Robbie Ray has a few words of advice: Slow down, pal.
This tidbit of wisdom may seem odd coming from guy who opted to sign a pro contract straight out of high school rather than play college ball and who, at 6-foot-2 with a nasty slider, maintains one of the highest strikeout-to-innings-pitched ratios in the major leagues.
But this 26-year-old former Brentwood High School star, who not only was a 2017 National League All-Star but also pitched in the postseason last year, knows what he’s talking about.
He has seen too many pitchers crash and burn, mostly because of over-burdening their arms or shoulders when they are still thick in growth mode.
“Kids these days are throwing 120, 130 pitches, snapping off 60 curveballs in games,” said Ray, who went 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA last season.
“When I got into pro ball, I was 19 years old and I was still growing. I feel like if your body is not fully developed, then you shouldn’t be doing what fully developed men are doing,” he said.
But even Ray, being as careful as he has been to not overwork his valuable pitching arm, hasn’t been able to avoid injuries.
Last year, as many may recall, there was the heart-stopping incident in which he was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of the Cardinals’ Luke Voit. Ray was fortunate to have suffered only a concussion, so he didn’t require an extended stay on the disabled list.
“That was, I guess, a pretty scary moment for everyone,” Ray said. “But I came back stronger from that.”
Upon his return to action, he showed no signs of being shaky. In fact, he went on to string together some of his best outings of the season.
“I just kind of accepted that it was part of baseball,” Ray said. “It’s a small part. It doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen.”
This season, he’s had to deal with an oblique strain. He’s made two starts since coming off the disabled list, and he’s still trying to get back to the form that made him so dominant last season.
“The results haven’t been exactly what I’ve expected, but sitting out for eight weeks and not pitching in a game is not easy.” Ray said. “So coming back, I expected a couple of blips, but physically, I feel good. I feel like I’m pitching well and all my pitches are working for me, so it’s just a matter of time until things turn around.”
Ray, who is 3-1 with a 5.23 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 43 innings, will get his next chance to step up his game on Friday, when the Diamondbacks take on the host Atlanta Braves in the first game of a three-game set.
Though Friday’s game represents a chance to place closer to home than most any other time this season, he is focused only on the big picture.
“The biggest thing is just staying healthy and going out every time and giving my team a chance to win,” Ray said. “Wins, they’re not easy to come by, and every win in the second half is crucial because that’s when the pennant race is coming down.”
Arizona is in first place in the National League West, but the race is tight and it figures to remain that way.
A year ago, three NL West clubs reached the postseason, with the Dodgers winning the division and the Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies locked into the wild card game.
The D-backs won that game before getting swept by the Dodgers in the NLCS.
“Going to the playoffs for the first time was a good experience,” Ray said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but we got a taste of it and we know what it takes.”
While Ray enjoys playing for high stakes, he also plays the game for a higher purpose.
“Everything I have has been given to me from God,” Ray said. “And if I’m not going out there and competing to the best of my ability, I feel like I’m just kind of squandering the gifts the he gave me.
“I am passionate about this game and I want to win for my team and I want to give God the glory for everything, and the more that I can be successful, the more he’s going to get the glory from it.”