Arizona Diamondbacks – Ray strong, but falls short

Robbie Ray, a left-handed pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, is nearing the 200 strikeout mark

LOS ANGELES – There could be a time, and very shortly, that Robbie Ray, a left-handed pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, moves up in the pitching rotation.

With a dominant fast ball and improving secondary pitches, Ray has both the confidence and demeanor to craft his skill. Already among the top strikeout pitchers in the National League, Ray took another step forward Wednesday night.

Holding the Los Angeles Dodgers to three runs on only two hits, Ray showed the kind of pitcher destined for success. Before he reaches that point, the main objective is to lower his pitch count, and that needs to be addressed. In the meantime, Ray is probably light years ahead of others in the Arizona organization, and just behind Zack Greinke in the Diamondbacks’ rotation.

With 12 strikeouts on Wednesday night and keeping the Dodgers off-balance with a developing breaking pitch, Ray fell victim to poor run support. Eventually, the native of Brentwood Tenn. dropped a 3-1 decision to the National League West Division-leading Dodgers before 44,352 in Dodger Stadium.

By striking out 12 Dodgers, Ray has 195 Ks for the season. In his next start, Ray will likely surpass the 200-strikeout mark and trail Dan Haren, who fanned 206 in 2008. Just ahead on the single season mark is Ian Kennedy, who struck out 198 in 2011. The franchise leader is Randy Johnson, who fanned 364 batters in 1999.

For his effort, Ray fell to 7-13 and allowed his 19th home run of the season. That puts him only behind team-leader Patrick Corbin, and Greinke for allowing the most bombs this season.

Everything is not lost. With a commanding fast ball, which occasionally reaches the upper 90s, Ray is developing into a dominant pitcher.

Almost.

“Yes, Robbie has dominant stuff, but guys who are dominant do not give up any runs,” said manager Chip Hale afterward. “I thought he pitched well, but we were not able to support him.”

The perhaps the greatest malady was Ray’s pitch count. That clearly was magnified in the first inning. Delivering 31 pitches in that frame, Ray walked three, and the Dodgers jumped out to a 2-1 advantage. For the game, Ray tossed 101 pitches, but over his final five innings, he threw 70 pitches. That’s an average of 14 pitches per innings, and a reasonable benchmark for success.

Later in the sixth, Yasiel Puig hammered a 1-2 pitch into the left field stands for his ninth bomb of the year. At that point, the Dodgers gained a two-run lead, and Ray departed. For the night, he allowed only two hits and three earned runs. The two hits allowed nearly equally Ray’s career best of giving the San Diego Padres one hit through seven innings on Aug. 20.

“I had trouble figuring out my pitches in the first inning,” Ray said. “After that, I was able to challenge them pretty good. On the homer to Puig, that was a curve which did not break that much. That’s a very good hitting team over there, and you have to be on top of your game.”

In that opening frame, Ray walked lead-off hitter Howie Kendrick. Corey Seager then doubled in Kendrick, and later scored on a sacrifice fly from Puig. Through the first inning, Ray walked three and run his pitch count to over 30 throws to the plate. Puig then created the final two-run margin of victory with his blast.

The miserable season continued for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The team lost its’ 81st game, and swept for the 11th time this season.

On deck

The Arizona Diamondbacks return to Chase Field Friday night and begin a 10-game home stand.

The San Francisco Giants open with a three-game series. On Friday night, look for Branden Shipley (3-3, 4.95 ERA) to start for Arizona, and draw lefty Madison Bumgarner (14-8, 2.51) as his mount opponent. On Saturday, Archie Bradley (6-8, 4.85) goes against righty Johnny Cueto (14-5, 2.92. In the series finale Sunday afternoon, it’s Zack Greinke (12-5, 4.54) going against lefty Matt Moore (2-4, 4.31).

Some numbers to consider.

Facing Bumgarner, Paul Goldschmidt is hitting .295 (13-for-44), but struck out 10 times. Chris Owings is hitting .091 (2-for-22), and A. J. Pollock is hitting .262 (11-42).

Against Cueto, Goldschmidt is hitting .273 (6-for-22), Jean Segura is hitting .265 (9-for-30), and Welington Castillo is hitting .273 (6-for-22).

Against Greinke, Brandon Belt is hitting .231 (6-for-26), and struck out 10 times. Brandon Crawford is hitting .185 (5-for-20), Angel Pagan is hitting .290 (9-for-31), Buster Posey is hitting .294 (1-for-34), and Denard Span is hitting .302 (13-for-43).

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