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Robbie Ray’s nightmare 2020, control issues continue in loss vs. Giants

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Robbie Ray, front right, stands on the mound as San Francisco Giants' Evan Longoria, left, rounds the bases after hitting a two run home-run during the third inning of a baseball game in San Francisco, Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

No one’s career has changed year-to-year on the Arizona Diamondbacks this season like Robbie Ray’s.

Entering last offseason, there was a case to be made that the D-backs should trade Ray, and that came after he was reportedly sought after on the trade market prior to the 2019 trade deadline.

With free agency coming for Ray after this season, there was always a chance the 2017 All-Star would receive a big-time contract the D-backs couldn’t afford, and they’d lose him for nothing.

Well, things have changed in a hurry.

Ray’s propensity for walking batters has hit an alarming spike in 2020. After a 6-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants, Ray now has 25 walks in 27.0 innings pitched. Add in the 29 hits allowed, and his WHIP is right at 2.000.

Ray threw 101 pitches in 5.0 innings against the Giants, allowing four earned runs on seven hits and five walks, striking out eight.

Tweaks to Ray’s mechanics throughout the year haven’t brought any more success, including pitching exclusively out of the stretch on Friday after he said his windup didn’t feel right warming up in the bullpen.

Ray’s 20 walks entering Friday already led the majors by four, and he’s got quite the cushion now for the top spot with 25. Ray said he liked his stuff overall on the night, including improved curveball placement compared to earlier outings this year, but ball fours on 3-2 counts were an issue he and catcher Stephen Vogt cited.

This is something that Ray has always done, as his WHIPs the last two seasons have been 1.350 and 1.342, poor numbers for a starter that had his ERA hovering around 4.00. When he got that WHIP number down to 1.154 in 2017, that and getting out of jams as he always does with the high pitch counts had his ERA at 2.89 for an All-Star nod.

When Ray’s stuff is in the strike zone, hitters can’t get to it. He’s one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball, averaging above 12 strikeouts per nine innings the last three seasons.

There’s better contact on his stuff, though, this year.

Per Fangraphs, the percentage of balls hit off Ray that are barrels is 13.3%. Barrels are balls hit with very high launch angles and exit velocity, and that number is nearly double Ray’s career average at 7.0%.

As the ole’ saying goes, Ray’s playing with fire far too much this season and getting burned.

His ERA on the season is now 8.33, which honestly might be low given how many guys he’s letting on.

That was evidenced by Friday’s outing, as in the first two innings of the game, the Giants loaded the bases with nobody out in the first and then one out in the second. Ray, though, got out of each situation without giving up a run.

But again, if he didn’t reel it in, he was going to pay. The Giants made him in the third with a two-run homer from Evan Longoria and another hit by Wilmer Flores in the fifth.

Meanwhile, the D-backs offense has officially cooled off. With the two runs on Friday, they’ve scored four total in the last three games. A three-batter sequence of a Christian Walker double, David Peralta RBI double and Eduardo Escobar RBI single in the fourth was responsible for the two runs.

Walker’s double in the first and him advancing on a single in the ninth were the only other times a D-backs baserunner was in scoring position.

Ray’s 2020 campaign has been so rough that it’s honestly a bit of a mystery as to what comes next. Should the D-backs take him out of the rotation? Should they trade him? Would any team want him? Is it drastic enough to let him go entirely? Is a sample size of six starts too small to make that rash of a decision?

With Monday serving as the 30-game mark and halfway point of Arizona’s season, that makes each start Ray has left in Arizona all the more fascinating.

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