Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Robbie Ray made his second start of the nascent season on Thursday night. As with his first outing, this one did not go well. Rather, Ray permitted five runs on five hits (including two home runs) and six walks over 4 2/3 innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Between that performance and his first start, which came against the San Diego Padres, he's now recorded more hits and walks (nine each) than innings pitched.
It's fair to write that this isn't how Ray envisioned the season playing out. Because he's scheduled to hit the open market this winter, all he needed to do in order to net a multiyear pact at season's end was to show up and do his normal thing while staying healthy. That formula worked well enough for him over the previous three seasons, when he compiled a 120 ERA+ and struck out more than 12 batters per nine innings.
Ray evidently wasn't satisfied with the status quo, however. As a result, he redesigned his arm action, shortening it in a way that's consistent with others who have broken out in recent years, such as Shane Bieber and Lucas Giolito. (Those familiar with pitching instructor Dave Coggin might recognize Ray's new arm action as being similar to the so-called "pocket path.") It was a risky manuever, given his past, his looming free agency, and the difficulty that comes with committing a delivery to muscle memory.
Ray was ostensibly fueled by a desire to improve the repeatability of his delivery, an attribute that has eluded him and that has led to consistency issues. So far, unfortunately, the change has left him consistent in one regard: an inability to throw strikes.
Ray has never fit the mold of a traditional strike-thrower, but in his two starts this season just 53 percent of his pitches have been strikes. For perspective, consider that in 2018, when he walked more than 13 percent of the batters he faced, he threw nearly 62 percent strikes. Put another way, nearly 12 percent of his plate appearances this season -- in a limited sample, of course -- have started out with a 3-0 count; the league-average tends to be under 5 percent, according to Baseball Reference.
There are positives to report from Ray's first two starts as well: his fastball velocity is back to averaging around 94 mph, up from last season and in line with past years; both his four-seamer and his slider have gained spin rate, per Statcast; and he's retained an elite ability to miss bats. None of that much matters right now, though, given the extreme control issues.
The perilous and unpredictable nature of this season adds emphasis to every Ray start. He doesn't have months to perfect his new delivery and showcase a new form to teams. He might have only a start or two more, for all anyone knows. For Ray's sake, here's hoping they go better than his first two, or he might find himself back at the drawing board this winter -- and, worst yet -- somewhere on a one-year deal next spring.