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    Robbie Ray on postgame celebration after shutout vs. Pirates

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PITTSBURGH – Robbie Ray was wide-eyed before walking into the visitors’ clubhouse late Tuesday night, a look that suggested he knew what awaited him behind closed doors. When he flung them open, a cheer erupted inside.

The first complete game and the first shutout of Ray’s career was cause for celebration on Tuesday night at PNC Park, where the Diamondbacks not only beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-0 but also witnessed the most convincing evidence to date that their left-hander might be turning a corner in his career.

“I think all the work that he’s done in the past and this year, it’s really kind of come together,” Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Butcher said. “It’s a big step forward.”

BOX SCORE: Diamondbacks 3, Pirates 0

For the third consecutive start, Ray did not allow a run. He worked quickly and confidently, striking out 10, retiring the side in order five times and navigating easily out of the only jam in which he found himself.

And after firing a 95 mph fastball past Josh Bell on his 115th pitch for the game’s final out, Ray had run his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 24 2/3 innings, the third-longest streak by a starter in club history and the longest by a pitcher not named Brandon Webb.

“I really feel like I’m getting in a groove with all my pitches – my curveball and my slider, my fastball command is great,” Ray said. “I felt really good.”

Two and a half weeks ago, Ray faced this same Pirates team but labored through four innings, struggling to avoid deep counts and to throw strikes. Five days later, he made a change, picking up his tempo between pitches, and, in his eyes, it’s the biggest reason for his recent success.

“Just getting the ball back, getting back on the rubber, getting the sign and go,” Ray said. “I’ve said before, sometimes you can have too much time up there thinking. We have a game plan, I’m going to stick to it and I don’t want to get away from it.”

Lately, that game plan has included a steady diet of sliders; an increased number of curveballs; very few, if any, change-ups; and a preponderance of his best pitch, an explosive four-seam fastball that few have been able to hit.

The pitch mix has left hitters with few answers. It was never more evident on Tuesday than in the fourth, an inning that began with a Josh Harrison double on a ball center fielder Rey Fuentes lost in the lights.

After getting Bell to ground weakly to first, Ray carved up David Freese and Francisco Cervelli for consecutive strikeouts to end the inning.

Freese saw a 95 mph fastball (called strike), a curveball (swinging strike), a slider in the dirt (ball) and a high 96 mph fastball (swinging strike). Cervelli actually got ahead in the count 2-0, but Ray came back with three consecutive fastballs at 95, 97 and 96 mph, respectively, all of which elicited swings-and-misses.

“We had a great mix to keep these guys off balance today,” catcher Chris Herrmann said. “They didn’t really have a chance. I know they hit a couple of balls hard, but for the most part I felt like any batter coming up today was going to be an automatic out with the stuff he came with today.”

MORE: Curveball a key to Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray’s recent success

It’s the kind of performance that left people in the Diamondbacks clubhouse wondering if they’re watching Ray ascend to frontline starter status before their very eyes.

“He’s been delivering and doing his job, so we’ve got to say, yes, he’s taken that next step to being a frontline guy,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “You’ve got to do it for an entire season before you probably need to feel that comfort level that you really are, but he’s on his way.”

A year ago, Ray posted a strikeout rate (11.3 per nine innings) that had only been reached by 10 other starting pitchers in baseball history. But he also logged the third-worst ERA (4.90) ever by a pitcher with 200 strikeouts. But, the past few starts, the results are beginning to match the dominance.

His teammates wasted no time showing their appreciation when he walked through the clubhouse door. Ray took nearly a half hour before speaking with reporters, saying he needed time to clean the ketchup out of his ears.

“First complete game – yeah, we had some postgame festivities,” Ray said. “It kind of turned into, ‘Find the closest thing and dump it on the person in the basket.’ It’s fun, though. It’s great.”

Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.

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Wednesday’s game

Diamondbacks at Pirates

When: 9:35 a.m.

Where: PNC Park, Pittsburgh.

Pitchers: Diamondbacks RHP Zack Godley (1-1, 1.99) vs. Pirates RHP Chad Kuhl (1-5, 6.29).

TV/Radio: FSAZ/KTAR-AM (620), KHOV-FM (105.1).

Godley threw well again last week in Milwaukee, giving up just five hits and a walk in six scoreless innings, striking out six. … He has logged at least six innings in four consecutive starts, and has yet to allow more than three runs in any of his five starts. … Godley is throwing his curveball more than ever, using it 28.4 percent of the time, up from 23.7 percent last year and 11.8 percent in 2015. … Kuhl gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings against the Mets in his most recent start. … He started the season well, posting a 2.60 ERA in three starts, but has a 8.67 ERA in his past seven starts. … Lefties are hitting .340 with a .406 on-base and .660 slugging off Kuhl.

Coming up

Thursday: At Miami, 4:10 p.m., Diamondbacks RHP Zack Greinke (6-3, 3.24) vs. Marlins LHP Jeff Locke (9-8, 5.44)*.

Friday: At Miami, 4:10 p.m., Diamondbacks LHP Patrick Corbin (4-5, 5.14) vs. Marlins RHP Jose Urena (3-2, 3.14).

Saturday: At Miami, 1:10 p.m., Diamondbacks RHP Randall Delgado (1-0, 3.47) vs. Marlins RHP Edinson Volquez (1-7, 4.44).

* – Stats from 2016.