After rocky start, D-backs pitcher Robbie Ray settles in against Houston

Sep 14, 2018, 8:01 PM | Updated: Sep 15, 2018, 10:29 am
Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Robbie Ray throws against the Houston Astros during the first...
Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Robbie Ray throws against the Houston Astros during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

On the night that Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo announced pitcher Clay Buchholz will miss the remainder of the season with a flexor strain in the same arm that forced him to get surgery in 2017, Robbie Ray provided more evidence that he can be a suitable replacement.

At one point Friday, Ray retired 13 of 14 Houston Astro hitters. He didn’t allow a hit after the first inning.

It was the fifth straight start in which Ray allowed two runs or fewer.

Ray might be getting closer to his 2017 form, but he’s not quite there. Those 14 batters were bookended by inaccurate pitches and lengthy Houston at-bats.

In the first inning, Ray loaded the bases before recording an out. He couldn’t control his pitches to the right-handed side of the plate.

Catcher Jeff Mathis set his glove up on the inside, but Ray’s throws would more often than not go to the outer half of the plate during that frame. A couple of pitches may have even skimmed the corner of the zone, but because Mathis was forced to move his body, they were called balls.

After allowing a leadoff single, nine of Ray’s next 10 pitches were balls. A slider that Mathis set up on the inside corner to first baseman Yuli Gurriel stayed on the outer half, and it resulted in an RBI single.

But after that, Ray forced a double play and a fly out. A pair of runners scored in the inning, eliminating the D-backs’ early lead, but he had found his footing.

“(Mathis) was telling me to keep my direction toward him. I think that was the biggest thing that helped me out,” Ray said to Fox Sports Arizona. “I was falling off a little bit, missing arm side in that first inning, and just staying on-line to him with all my pitches helped out a lot.”

Ray needed just 16 pitches to get through the next two innings 1-2-3.

He relied heavily on his slider, which ran between 82 and 84 mph, throughout the game.

In a seven-pitch battle against center fielder George Springer in the fifth, Ray threw a slider. George’s swing knocked his helmet off his head.

The southpaw threw another slider. It was in the dirt, but Springer couldn’t check his swing, grimacing as he tried to stop his motion.

One more slider. One more check swing. This one was in the zone, though, and it was Ray’s sixth strikeout of the game.

At just 75 pitches, he returned for the sixth, but consecutive nine-pitch at-bats forced Lovullo to go to the bullpen.

Ray almost hit second baseman Jose Altuve in the chin before actually hitting him in the leg on a 3-2 count, and then left fielder Alex Bregman flew out on the final pitch of Ray’s outing.

Relief pitcher Archie Bradley got out of the inning in five pitches.

Ray gave up two runs off two hits, three walks and a hit by pitch while striking out six.

His ERA, which sat at 4.91 on Aug. 17, is down to 4.14.

The score was tied at two when Ray was pulled in the sixth.

Arizona defeated the Astros 4-2. It’s not major consolation over losing Buchholz, but a win does provide some relief.

“Somebody’s got to fill in his spot and pick up where he left off,” Ray said. “There’s no time to lose.”

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