The top three pitchers in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ rotation are not going to cause any controversy or discussion.
Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller were brought in this offseason to give the D-backs a true high-end presence at the top of the rotation.
Patrick Corbin looked to be the ace before those acquisitions, and now looks like one of the best No. 3 pitchers in baseball.
The discussion surrounding the D-backs’ rotation centers on the last two spots, although manager Chip Hale named Rubby De La Rosa the fourth starter last month.
Some expected that to be Robbie Ray, who had some of the top statistics on the staff in 2015.
Ray led the rotation in ERA (3.52), WAR (1.7) and strikeouts per nine innings (8.39) despite finishing with a record of 5-12.
The 12th-round selection in the 2010 draft has been competing this spring for the fifth and final starter spot.
“He is the leading candidate,” Chip Hale told Burns & Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday.
“He ended (2015) in our five-man rotation and he’s done nothing in camp to lose that. We’re very excited, the way he’s throwing the ball.”
The knock on Ray has been his inability to pitch deep into games. The lefty pitched more than five innings in only 11 of his 23 starts last season after being called up from Triple-A Reno.
When asked about that issue, Hale said “let’s see how he does tomorrow,” with Ray scheduled to pitch Wednesday against the Giants.
“I felt like I had a good year last year and only carried that into this year and continued to do well and fine-tune some things,” Ray said on Bickley & Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday. “I’m comfortable with where I’m at right now.”
Of course, spring training isn’t the time to work on going deep into games. Ray has pitched 9.2 innings in three outings so far. His last start, March 13 against the White Sox, saw him work an efficient 4.2 innings. Ray allowed two runs on four hits and struck out three. More importantly, he threw only 32 pitches, including 24 for strikes.
Last season, Ray averaged 17.7 pitches per inning. So far in spring, that number is down to 12.1.
The 24-year-old is looking forward to being part of a rotation that has the potential to not only be very good, but also to lighten the load on Arizona’s bullpen, which was overworked in 2015.
“We’ve got some guys that can go deeper into games now, that takes a load off your bullpen,” Ray said. “Our guys get taxed last year in the bullpen and this year it looks like, if things continue the way they are, those guys are still going to get called on, but it’s going to be deeper in the games where they’re not getting run out two or three innings every night.”