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D-backs’ Robbie Ray re-found mechanics before, after oblique injury

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Robbie Ray (38) pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park Sunday, April 29, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Let’s not take too long to explain Robbie Ray’s 2017 season.

He ranked fifth in ERA (2.89), ninth in total strikeouts (218) and was tied for 12th in WHIP (1.15). The first-time All-star went 15-5 in 28 starts with only a liner off his head setting him back.

The start to the 2018 season didn’t follow with similar results. Through five starts, Ray touted a 5.13 ERA before an April 29 game against the Washington Nationals. Four outs in, Ray was feeling as good as he had the season before.

Here’s the bad news: Ray left after 1.1 innings with an oblique injury that kept him out of action nearly two months before his return Wednesday night.

After 6.0 innings, 83 pitches, six strikeouts and just two hits allowed in a 2-1 win over the Miami Marlins in his return, Ray can say he’s feeling nearly as good as he did before injuring his core.

“I kind of got away from what I was doing last year, mechanical-wise,” Ray told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station Thursday. “That outing in Washington, I found it down in the bullpen and took it into the game, and I was feeling so good in that game. I was telling myself, ‘Alright, you’re going to take off now’ because everything — I mean everything was clicking that game. My velo was up, all my pitches were working.

“And then I go down after the fourth out of the game. It was kind of like, ‘Dang, this really happened.’ I was able to take that into my rehab and remember what that felt like. I kind of just picked up where I left off after that start.”

Before that April 29 game at Washington, Ray made an adjustment to his hand placement as he loaded up at the start of his throwing motion.

So having just found that, he might’ve worried that suffering the injury just as he got into a groove might be difficult considering the severity of the oblique injury.

Rehab began with rest. Then he spent a lot of time in the pool.

“Honestly, for the first couple of weeks, you can’t do anything. For the first few days, it’s tough to breathe. To roll out of bed is not easy. Every movement is a chore,” Ray said.

But once Ray received his final MRI and got cleared, he progressed quickly.

The D-backs felt comfortable enough with his speedy rehab assignment in the minors that they cut a scheduled start on Monday and announced that he’d instead make his MLB return against the Marlins on Wednesday.

Ray was supposed to be capped at 90 pitches, and the D-backs pulled him after 83 as his fastball velocity dipped. Aside from that and two walks, it couldn’t have gone much better.

Most importantly for Ray, the mechanical fix held up over his time off.

“It was one of those things where I was going to have to make a conscious effort to change it,” Ray said of his early-season struggles. “It was kind of like, during my leg-lift, my hands weren’t coming up to where I could separate and have a nice round delivery where my arm is coming through really fluid. So that was the biggest thing is my hands were kind of stuck low and I was stabbing more than having that nice fluid motion.

“I found that in the bullpen in Washington and I was able to thankfully still remember what that felt like.”