SAN DIEGO – The Arizona Diamondbacks won another game they ought to have won, beating up on the last-place San Diego Padres by a score of 9-4 on Friday night. The evening had a different feel in a far corner of the visitors’ clubhouse, where Robbie Ray stood in front of his locker without answers.

For 4 1/3 innings, Ray labored. He could not command his pitches. He could not throw strikes. He hollered at home-plate umpire James Hoye on his way off the mound after the first inning, only to say later that Hoye had the strike zone right.

“It was all self-inflicted,” Ray said.

BOX SCORE:  Diamondbacks 9, Padres 4

Ray came into this season expecting to build on the breakout he enjoyed last year. He saw his emergence last season as a sort of first step. Armed with electric stuff, he found a way to harness it in 2017, and, more often than not, he dominated.


Diamondbacks lefty Robbie Ray gave up just two hits, but he walked five batters and failed to complete the fifth inning on Friday night in San Diego.
Nick Piecoro, azcentral sports

This season has been a different story. Early in the year, his velocity deserted him. Just as it was starting to return, he strained his oblique. Since coming back, the stuff has mostly been there, but the command hasn’t.

Ray has issued at least three walks 10 times in 16 starts and is averaging 4.9 walks per nine innings. He was tough on both righties and lefties last year, but lately has struggled against right-handed hitters, who own an .828 OPS against him. He has a 4.91 ERA, a mark that is more than two runs higher than last year.

“I’ve had a little command issue,” Ray said. “I just need to get back to what I do best and that’s pound the zone. I’ve got too good of stuff to be pitching around the zone. I’ve just got to attack guys and then my off-speed stuff gets better.”

He was viewed as a sort of foundational beam for the Diamondbacks entering the year. And though he hasn’t been able to carry the weight, neither has the entire structure collapsed. But without a dominant Ray, it becomes harder to imagine a postseason run materializing.

Warming up in the bullpen on Friday evening, Ray felt like himself; his pitches were going where he wanted them. That changed once he stepped on the main mound at Petco Park.

Ray doesn’t think the breakdown is matter of emotions getting the better of him once the game begins. Perhaps, he said, it’s about a lack of focus, but whatever is happening it’s leading to a breakdown in his mechanics.

“All I can do is I can go into my next bullpen session, watch video, see what I’m doing and compare it to when I’m at my best,” Ray said. “And just try to mimic that. I don’t really have too many answers, but that’s probably my best bet.”

That’s just what Ray did early on Saturday, sitting down with pitching coach Mike Butcher to review his outing.

“The interesting thing is,” Butcher said, “he’s been really, really good not just before the game but also in all of his side work. It’s a matter of bringing that into the game. At some point, you have to say, where is the flaw? Why is this not going in there?”

Butcher didn’t have an answer, but he said he had drills that he wanted Ray to do over the next few days to get him in a better position to repeat his mechanics. That said, for as many walks as Ray is issuing, Butcher doesn’t actually think his left-hander is that far from regaining his form.

“I just thought he was a little off, just a hair off,” he said. “I think we’re close.

“I honestly don’t think he’s that far off. I think he’s very, very close, and I’m just hoping it turns sooner rather than later. We need him.”


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