DETROIT — Detroit Tigers left-hander Robbie Ray was impressive in winning his major league debut on Tuesday, and will get another start Sunday against the Minnesota Twins.
He pretty much dominated the Houston Astros by allowing one run on five hits over 5 1/3 innings, and that heightened hopes that Ray could end up making obtaining him from the Washington Nationals for rotation fixture Doug Fister a worthwhile transaction.
However, two points need to be considered in evaluating Ray. The Astros have the worst offense in the American League, and he handled them with basically a fastball-changeup combination. He didn’t use his curveball until his last few innings, and it remains a work in progress.
"It’s just inconsistent," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said of Ray’s curve. "You try to acquire a new pitch and it takes a learning curve and correcting it when it goes wrong. He has a new pitch and a new grip. So, there are some inconsistencies at times."
Ray, 22, said he abandoned the curve two years ago to focus on the slider. However, during spring training, Ray resurrected the curve and scrapped the slider after talking with Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones.
"Jonesy decided the curve would be better for me because it is more of a two-plane pitch for me," said Ray, explaining that the "two-plane" effect makes it a harder pitch for hitters to follow.
"Sometimes, I break off a nice one. But sometimes I fall back into a slider mentality, and it flies out and gets away like on the pitch against Houston. I just have to keep throwing it, and it will come around."
Ray will need the curve to be an effective major league starter, but likely could get by on the two pitches he’s able to command right now in the bullpen. He has a "sneaky fast" fastball that clocked at 90-92 mph, and a good changeup that he got hitters to chase out of the strike zone.
The Tigers haven’t announced any intentions of keeping him as a reliever. They see him as a future starter in Detroit and want him to progress toward that goal. Should Max Scherzer leave as a free agent, Ray could slot into the rotation next year.
However, Anibal Sanchez is unlikely to pitch any earlier than next weekend after coming off the disabled list. So, Ray could spend next week in the Tigers’ bullpen and continue working on his curve with Jones. Though, Ray credits Toledo pitching coach Al Nipper and Tigers minor league pitching coordinator A.J. Sager with also helping him with the pitch.
Detroit also obtained left-handed reliever Ian Krol (2.70 ERA, .205 opponent batting average) and utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi (since traded) for Fister, who comes off the disabled list to make his first start for the Nationals on Friday night at Oakland against the A’s.
SANCHEZ AND ROTATION UPDATE:
Sanchez (finger laceration) played long toss on Thursday and had a bullpen session scheduled for Friday. He is eligible to come off the disabled list Monday, but won’t be activated until ready to start, which appears to be no earlier than May 17 at Boston.
Detroit has an off day on Thursday, after Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly and Justin Verlander pitch on consecutive days in Baltimore against the Orioles. Max Scherzer will start Friday at Boston, but Ausmus was non-committal on how the rotation will set up after that. He wants one of the "Big Three" power pitchers between Porcello and Smyly to disrupt hitters and assure having at least two of his top pitchers in most series.
TORII AND MIGGY DOMINATE HUGHES:
Miguel Cabrera (.536) and Torii Hunter (.471) rank one-three in batting average among players with at least 15 at-bats against Phil Hughes, who starts Friday night for Minnesota. Cabrera has four doubles, five homers and 18 RBIs in only 28 at-bats against Hughes.
Hughes is 3-1 with a 4.72 ERA in his first season with the Twins after seven with the New York Yankees. He signed a three-year deal for $24 million with Minnesota.
LEYLAND HONORED ON SATURDAY:
One of the main reasons I came over was Jim Leyland.
The Tigers will honor retired manager Jim Leyland before Saturday afternoon’s game, and he will throw out the first pitch.
Hunter wasn’t sure who will catch Leyland, but figured it would be one of his long-time players. Justin Verlander, who started Friday night, is the only player remaining from when Leyland arrived in 2006 and led Detroit to the first of two World Series appearances. Leyland was the only major league manager Verlander had until this year, and he credits much of his growth to the man he calls "The Skipper."
Hunter said he established a relationship with Leyland as an opponent before coming to Detroit as a free agent last season, and often told Leyland he would play for him one day.
"One of the main reasons I came over was Jim Leyland," said Hunter.