Robbie Ray keeps D-backs rolling
The piece that was missing for the Diamondbacks this season was consistent starting pitching.
Maybe it was found.
Robbie Ray took the baton Monday and passed it forward, pitching seven scoreless innings in both his and the D-backs' his fourth straight solid start in a 7-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim.
Ray did not allow a base runner until he walked Mike Trout with one out in the fourth inning and he did not give up a hit until Daniel Robinson dropped a single into right-center field with two outs in the sixth.
So Ray looks like he belongs. Cliff Pennington, forced into emergency duty, looks like he can play left field. And then, of course, there is Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt's three-run homer in the third inning gave Ray the cushion he needed to improve to 2-1 and drop his ERA to 1.09. Ray struck out three and walked two.
Ray followed the leader as the D-backs (31-32) extended their winning streak to four games, one short of their season high, as they prepare to finish an eight-game road trip against the Angels on Tuesday.
The D-backs' last four starters:
Chase Anderson -- seven innings, one hit, no runs.
Allen Webster -- 5 2/3 innings, two hits, two runs.
Rubby De La Rosa -- eight-plus innings, eight hits, no runs.
Ray -- seven innings, two hits, no runs.
Anderson, Webster and De La Rosa beat San Francisco over the weekend, when the Giants scored in only one of their 27 innings.
"Starting pitching, like anything else, like hitting, the guys compete," D-backs manager Chip Hale told reporters after Monday's win. "They see the first guy going up there and get close to throwing a no-hitter, and all of a sudden here comes the next one and the next one. It runs like that. Unfortunately when things are not going well, it runs like that. We're on a good streak with that right now. They are all getting better. That's the key. Robbie had another good outing. He is taking a step forward every time out."
While Ray was shutting down the Angels, Goldschmidt was wearing out Angels starter Jered Weaver. Goldschmidt doubled to right-center off Weaver in the first inning and hit his home with two outs in the third, after Weaver walked Welington Castillo to lead off the inning and walked A.J. Pollock with outs.
Goldschmidt timed a curve ball for his 18th homer of the season, driving it into the hedge past the center field fence, where even Trout could not reach it.
Pennington celebrated his 31st birthday by doing all the things a left fielder should do, even if it was his first major league game in the outfield. With all four outfielders already in the lineup in the D-backs' first game of the season with a designated hitter, handyman Pennington was Hale's best option to play left after Ender Inciarte was injured on the first play of the game.
"I was just going to rely on McKay (outfield coach Dave) and try not to mess up," Pennington told FOX Sports Arizona's Jody Jackson.
All Pennington did was make it look routine. Pennington handled three fly balls with no trouble, including a line drive that he had to charge by catcher Carlos Perez leading off the third inning. He also showed his baseball instincts in the sixth inning, when he fielder a single down the line by Erick Aybar with a runner on first base and threw to second to get Aybar attempting to stretch it.
"He made one of the best plays of the year by cutting that ball off and throwing Aybar out at second," Hale said. "He looked like a natural. He's an athlete."
Pennington used a borrowed outfielder's glove in the first inning but changed to one of his infield gloves in the second inning and stayed with it. The D-backs' bullpen, which is situated behind the left field fence, had some fun with Pennington. After his first catch -- two-handed, the old school way -- Pennington smiled and gave the bullpen a mock-bow.
Pennington also had two hits and a sacrifice, and his bunt single in the ninth inning drove in the first run of a two-run inning that put the game out of reach.
"It's a tough play to defend," Pennington said. "Just trying to get the ball down and get an RBI. It is really hard to keep the run from scoring.
The D-backs will place Inciarte on the disabled list, Hale said, and announce a corresponding move Tuesday. Hale said it is likely they could add a player who can play first base and the outfield, since they are down to three outfielders.
Danny Dorn and Peter O'Brien could be candidates. The D-backs have 38 players on the 40-man roster, so creating a spot for O'Brien or any other payer not the on the roster would not be issue.
Inciarte suffered a strained right hamstring while attempting to beat out a grounder to first base as the first batter of the game. Racing to beat pitcher Jered Weaver to the bag after Albert Pujols' stop, Inciarte pulled up just as he reached first base and grabbed his hamstring.
"We don't think it is really bad," Hale said. "It's a strain. His legs are so important to us that the 15 days, we want him to be 100 percent coming back. It is not something we want him to try to push and come back in two or three days.
Inciarte is hitting .287 with 11 doubles and nine stolen bases.
The game was stopped after Jake Lamb's infield single with one out in the top of the fourth inning when Angels' right-hander Jered Weaver was bleeding from his right thumb. The most likely cause was probably Weaver himself, who likely cut his thumb with a finger nail while snapping off a curve ball. Weaver stayed in the game.
0.65 -- ERA of the D-backs' starting pitchers in the last four games.
* The D-backs turned a double play on an Pujols grounder that for all intents and purposes was hit too slowly turn into a double play. Chris Owings fielded the ball and fed shortstop Nick Ahmed, who made the play by catching the ball bare-handed and nipping Pujols at first. While replays seemed to show that Pujols beat the play, the call stood.
* Since Goldschmidt's first full season in 2012, only two National League players have drawn more than 100 walks in a season -- Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto (135) and Cincinnati center fielder Shin-Soo Choo (112) both in 2013. Goldschmidt, who was intentionally walked in the ninth inning, is on pace for 133.
This spring, D-backs chief baseball officer Tony La Russa called Goldschmidt and Pujols two peas in a pod. Similar? "In about every way," Goldschmidt said on a back field at Salt River Fields. Goldschmidt and Pujols had a long chat while the umpires reviewed Pujols' double play ball in the fourth inning. Maybe they were comparing notes on Tony.