Robbie Ray was searching for consistency. He was drowning successful his ain thoughts. He was a young pitcher pinch nan Arizona Diamondbacks who possessed a talented near limb and bat-missing stuff. But excessively galore of those pitches were spraying retired of nan onslaught zone.
The day was May 5, 2016. Arizona pitching coach Mike Butcher watched Ray propulsion a pregame bullpen convention astatine Marlins Park. He publication nan uncertainty successful Ray’s assemblage language. Before nan 24-year-old pitcher took nan mound that night, Butcher decided nan clip was correct to footwear immoderate soil successful his face. “I request you to extremity reasoning and extremity emotion for things, and conscionable commencement getting aft it.”
Ray responded. Audibly. He started letting his pitches spell pinch much effort. And each transportation was accompanied by a large grunt that would make Monica Seles proud.
Ray has been 1 of nan league’s preeminent grunters ever since.
“It’s for illustration thing you’d perceive successful nan weight room,” then-Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner told ESPN successful 2017. “It sounds for illustration a powerlifter trying to propulsion up a full bunch of weight.”
It was noticeable that nighttime successful Miami’s quiet echo enclosure of a ballpark. It was noticeable each those days erstwhile location wasn’t overmuch buzz successful nan crowd astatine Phoenix’s Chase Field. It was really noticeable successful nan pandemic-shortened 2020 season, erstwhile nan only fans were shut up cardboard cutouts.
The grunts mightiness person progressive much than effort successful that 2020 season. There had to beryllium immoderate vexation mixed in, too. For each nan ups and downs successful Ray’s career, he had reached his lowest point. He had a 7.84 ERA successful 7 starts. He issued 31 walks successful 31 innings. He was an impending free supplier and truthful nan Diamondbacks considered themselves fortunate to get thing for him astatine nan waste and acquisition deadline.
The Toronto Blue Jays acquired Ray for Travis Bergen, a minor-league lefty who had been nan San Francisco Giants’ Rule 5 draftee a twelvemonth earlier. The Diamondbacks threw successful $300,00 to offset immoderate of Ray’s net arsenic well. The Blue Jays saw capable committedness successful Ray’s 20 innings aft nan waste and acquisition to motion him to a one-year, $8 cardinal contract, which turned into nan bargain of nan offseason. For that investment, Ray returned an American League Cy Young Award-winning 2021 play that precisely cipher saw coming.
Robbie Ray had a 6.62 ERA successful 2020
That is nan highest ERA for a pitcher successful nan play anterior to winning Cy Young
Prior highest: 2007 Cliff Lee, 6.29 — won ‘08 CYA
BASEBALL IS THE BEST. TURNAROUNDS ARE AMAZING!
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) November 17, 2021
Ray led nan AL successful ERA (2.84) and strikeouts (248) successful 2021 while astir halving his profession locomotion complaint from 4.3 per 9 innings to conscionable 2.4. He widened his stance connected nan rubber, changed his limb assistance and coiled his torso while turning his backmost to nan hitter. The mechanical changes added deception and forced him to support his beforehand enarthrosis closed, which led to amended bid of nan onslaught zone. Ray sewage successful tons much termination counts and he had 1 of nan league’s champion sliders to usage arsenic a morningstar. He had nan champion play of his career. And he grunted his measurement done each of it.
Now he is hoping to grunt his measurement backmost to that level aft making conscionable 1 commencement for nan Seattle Mariners past play earlier undergoing a complete elbow reconstruction — a flexor tendon repair that besides turned into Tommy John room to refashion his ulnar collateral ligament. The Giants acquired him pinch nan afloat consciousness that Ray’s best-case script this play is simply a return to nan mound aft nan All-Star break. His rehab whitethorn return moreover longer than that. Even if each Ray does is negociate a fistful of superb and patient starts successful September, that mightiness beryllium each he needs to show to opt retired of nan last 2 years and $50 cardinal of nan five-year, $115 cardinal woody he signed pinch Seattle earlier nan 2022 season.
The waste and acquisition for Ray won’t thief nan Giants successful nan contiguous future. There’s nary guarantee it will thief them astatine all. But it allowed Giants president of shot operations Farhan Zaidi to dislodge immoderate dormant wood from nan roster while sending outfielder Mitch Haniger and right-hander Anthony DeSclafani to Seattle. And it gives nan Giants an upside play successful nan arena that Ray, 32, tin reestablish nan shape he recovered pinch Toronto successful 2021.
Speaking connected a convention telephone pinch Giants reporters connected Friday, Ray near small uncertainty that he continues to perceive Butcher’s challenging sound successful his head. He plans to get aft it this season.
But first, he has to get healthy.
“That’s my main focus,” Ray said. “Everything falls into spot erstwhile I do get healthy. I’ve had thing but bully experiences since I’ve been here, thing but bully interactions pinch training staff, beforehand office, Farhan, (manager) Bob Melvin, (pitching coach) Bryan Price. I deliberation my main attraction is getting patient first earlier I tin make immoderate determination for illustration (the opt-out).”
The caller twelvemonth is already bringing caller beginnings. Ray and his wife, Taylor, welcomed a daughter, Sophia, connected Jan. 10. And Ray is acold capable into his rehab from nan May 3 process to consciousness for illustration he has a caller assemblage part.
“We’ve travel a agelong measurement pinch nan subject and everything down it,” Ray said. “The measurement they do it now is ace advanced. I’ve talked to older seasoned guys (who had Tommy John surgery) and you conscionable benignant of laugh. They didn’t do a full batch (of rehab work). So to spot nan improvement of nan room and besides nan rehab process arsenic well, it’s interesting.
“I’ve been capable to bounce backmost really well. Maybe felt immoderate soreness, but it’s almost a marque caller elbow. That’s thing I haven’t felt successful 10 years.”
The flexor repair successful summation to nan ligament reconstruction adds a grade of uncertainty to nan emblematic Tommy John betterment process. Three months earlier nan Jan. 4 trade, Seattle GM Justin Hollander told reporters that it would beryllium intolerable to circle a precise day connected nan almanac for Ray’s return: “I can’t show you erstwhile he’s going to beryllium back. You could show maine it was immoderate of nan All-Star break, August aliases September, and those are each believable dates connected nan calendar. It conscionable depends. It’s a agelong rehab process, and you ne'er cognize which measurement it’s really going to go.”
The very early returns are encouraging. Ray, who is moving retired astatine nan Giants’ analyzable successful Arizona, said he will postgraduate to throwing agelong flip from 120 feet connected Saturday. He hopes to statesman throwing disconnected a mound — not difficult capable to grunt conscionable yet — earlier nan extremity of outpouring training. He has gotten to cognize Logan Webb and was already friends pinch Alex Cobb, who has go Ray’s rehab buddy arsenic Cobb useful his measurement backmost from hep labrum room that apt will support him retired until June astatine nan earliest. Ray watched newest free-agent signee Jordan Hicks propulsion fume disconnected a mound connected Friday. He’s seen respective different young pitchers arsenic they get an early commencement connected their broadside activity arsenic well.
Ray besides seems to person a digit connected nan beat of nan instrumentality base.
“I deliberation we’re successful a really bully spot pinch arms,” Ray said. “We could astir apt adhd a fewer bats. A mates bats wouldn’t hurt. But we’ve sewage nan arms to do it.”
Grunts are amended than groans. What’s nan best-case scenario? A cheering ballpark to drown them out.
(Photo of Robbie Ray mid-grunt while pinch Seattle: Nicole Neri / Associated Press)