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D-backs sweep Padres behind Ray’s best start of 2020

Arizona Diamondbacks' Kole Calhoun celebrates with Stephen Vogt (21) after hitting a two-run home run against the San Diego Padres in the third inning during a baseball game, Sunday, Aug 16, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Robbie Ray needed a game like this.

The 28-year old lefty hasn’t been all that impressive since 2017, when he went 15-5 and posted a 2.89 ERA. But he hadn’t really been terrible either – moreso just average. Until this season.

Ray carried a 10.59 ERA into Sunday’s contest with San Diego. And then proceeded to throw five no-hit innings against one of the better lineups in baseball, as the Arizona Diamondbacks completed the sweep of the Padres with a 5-4 win.

Of course, baseball games aren’t five innings long. Not even in 2020. And things got interesting in the later innings of this one. The bullpen didn’t just lose Ray’s no-hitter, it quickly gave up four runs as well.

With Arizona up 2-0, Ray issued a leadoff walk to Fernando Tatis Jr. in the sixth. Torey Lovullo opted to lift his starter, who was already 95 pitches deep at that point.

“He did give up no hits, and he had real good stuff,” Lovullo acknowledged. “So part of me feels like he deserves that opportunity. But I had made that decision long before it happened, and I had a conversation with him and I just wanted to stick to it.”

The decision made some sense, given the pitch count and where they were in the game. Problem is, Junior Guerra came in and promptly surrendered a two-run home run to Eric Hosmer. No hitter gone, game tied.

Guerra allowed another run later in the inning, and Taylor Clarke was tagged for an unearned run on a rare Nick Ahmed error in the seventh. After a promising start, the D-backs were down 4-2.

That just set the stage for Eduardo Escobar to be the hero though. And he took full advantage, driving a 1-1 pitch from Emilio Pagan over the right field wall for a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth. Arizona took the 5-4 lead, and Archie Bradley finished things off in the ninth.

“Eduardo is the heartbeat of this team,” Lovullo pointed out. “He’s one of the leaders.”

The win runs the D-backs’ streak to four, and they’re now 8-3 in their last 11. They’re also 11-11 overall, making this the first time they’ve reached .500 since the season began.

“It feels great, but .500 is not our goal,” Lovullo reminded everyone. “That was never the goal of the Arizona Diamondbacks. We want to go out and play our best baseball game tomorrow, and I believe we’re going to do that. We worked hard to get back to this point, and I don’t think we’re going to let it slip backwards because we remember what that felt like.”

The bigger story here is Ray’s performance though. He wasn’t exactly dominant – in fact he walked six guys. So even if he had been able to continue, he would’ve been working on the type of no-hitter that would make Edwin Jackson proud. But it was clearly his best performance in a long time. And he showed flashes of that potential that’s been there his whole career – punctuating the afternoon by becoming the second-fastest left-hander to reach 1,000 career strikeouts since 1913.

“I felt good,” Ray said. “I felt like everything was coming out good. I felt like my pitches were moving the way I wanted to. Felt like maybe I didn’t get a few calls, that kind of hurt me. But I felt like, for the most part, everything was working pretty good.”

San Diego entered the game among the top ten teams in OPS and runs scored, and Ray shut them down. The last two years have been disappointing for the guy that was once pegged to be Zack Greinke’s successor as the staff ace – but he at least still had a respectable 4.17 ERA over that stretch. This year he’d just been getting lit up every time he took the mound.

If today’s performance is a turning point for Ray, the Diamondbacks won more than just a game over San Diego. Madison Bumgarner hasn’t given them anything yet, and Luke Weaver has struggled mightily. This team can’t rely on Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly to carry the entire load for the rotation. They need Ray to get outs.

He did that today. And, in fairness to him, this was only his fifth start of the season. It’s not like we’re 130 games in and he’s been consistently terrible for months. But nothing’s normal this year, and we’re already closing in on the halfway point of the 2020 campaign. Lovullo doesn’t have the luxury of waiting out slumps.

Fortunately, Ray didn’t look like a pitcher that was slumping in this one. And while it’s easy to understand why fans in the Valley might be skeptical of one strong outing – especially after all the talk of how impressive Ray was during camp – this is the first encouraging sign we’ve really seen from him since the season began.

BASE HITS

-Before the game, Arizona placed RHP Jeremy Beasley on the 10-day injured list with a right shoulder strain, and recalled RHP Joel Payamps from the alternate training site.


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