Smooth sailing for Tigers' Ray in debut

Robbie Ray gives up one run in his debut and the Detroit Tigers route the Houston Astros 11-4 Tuesday night for their season-high seventh straight win.

Robbie Ray allows one run on five hits over 5 1/3 innings in his major league debut.

Paul Sancya

DETROIT -- It was pretty much smooth sailing for Robbie Ray in his major-league debut.

The left-handed prospect picked up by the Detroit Tigers in the Doug Fister trade put away the Houston Astros, allowing one run on five hits over 5 1/3 innings.

Tuesday night's 11-4 victory was the seventh straight for Detroit, which continued to roll behind strong starting pitching.  

If Ray can repeat that performance as surely as he did his fluid mechanics, he might someday take the onus off Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski for dealing dependability for potential on a team trying to win a World Series.

Receiving a standing ovation from many of the 27,939 at Comerica Park wasn't a bad way to come out of the gate.

"I was just overall excited," said Ray, 22.

His parents were up from Nashville, Tenn., and his fiancée and her family from Grand Rapids, Mich., were on hand. But he couldn't locate them in the crowd as he walked off the mound to the dugout.

It was about all he couldn't spot on a night when he walked one and struck out five, while showing the poise to get out of a first-inning rally.

Ray knew a question about Fister was coming. Ray was traded by the Washington Nationals on Dec. 2 along with effective left-handed reliever Ian Krol and utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi for Fister, who was 32-20 with a 3.29 ERA in two and one half seasons with Detroit.

"I got the sense of that before today," Ray said. "The fans on Twitter and some willing to tell you to your face. You heard 'em talking, and you push it aside. You wait and see."

He's expected to get one more start, Sunday against the Minnesota Twins, before Anibal Sanchez returns from the 15-day disabled list.

That was certainly an excellent first outing for Robbie.

Brad Ausmus

"He pitched very well," said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus. "His fastball (90-92 mph) played well over what was up there from the (radar) gun. His curveball started out not so great and came around. And his changeup was consistent.

"That was certainly an excellent first outing for Robbie."

The only extra-base hit Ray allowed was a bloop, opposite-field double by the first batter he faced, All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve. Dexter Fowler followed with an infield single that might have been an out had Ray taken a better route to the bag.

Bu that moment allowed him to show how resilient he could be with runners on the corners and nobody out.  He responded by using a fastball-changeup combo to strikeout both All-Star catcher Jason Castro and Chris Carter, and induced a grounder to shortstop by Jesus Guzman to end the inning.

"I was just telling myself to calm down," Ray said. "Getting out of it was big. In the second inning, I felt more collected."

Not that the Tigers sensed any uncertainty before the first pitch or during the first-inning rally.

"Sometimes you might be able to see the nerves a little bit more," Detroit catcher Alex Avila said of breaking in first-timers. "With him, if he did have any nerves, he didn't show it -- which is a good sign. He has composure, and he's able to control his emotions."

Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones said, "Even when he warmed up, he didn't seem like he was too jittery. You're always going to be a little nervous for your first start. But when he warmed up, he warmed up really well, threw a lot of strikes, and carried it into the game."

Between the first and sixth innings, all the Astros could muster were an infield single and a walk. They're the American League's weakest offensive team, with a .217 team batting average.

Ray kept them off the scoreboard until allowing two singles to open the sixth. A run scored on a fielder's choice play before Ausmus took him out.

Ray got the ovation, then Evan Reed ended the threat by getting Guzman to hit into a double play on his first pitch.

After the game, Tigers closer Joe Nathan made his way over to offer congratulations, adding, "Enjoy your night."

Reliever Joba Chamberlain made sure Ray got a pair of gaudy Zubaz pants in the team colors, which  he wore during post-game interviews. Everyone else on the Tigers was sporting them, and now Ray was part of the team.

Fister has spent the season on the disabled list but is expected to get his first start for the Nationals on Friday. Ray is likely headed back to Toledo when Sanchez returns, so the debate on the trade will continue.

For one night, however, Ray quieted the critics. His potential was evident to everyone.

Repeating your mechanics is one of the most important elements in pitching success, and Ray did that with consistency while never shaking off Avila.

"We were on the same page the whole night," Ray said.

Ray's first page in the scorebook was quite a good one.