Coming into spring training camp, the Diamondbacks’ decision-makers had pretty much settled on their starting rotation. Almost, because manager Chip Hale said as early as the winter meetings last December in Nashville that his rotation was set.
Citing Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa and Robby Ray as those who constitute the rotation, Hale and club officials made an abrupt turn. When camp began last week, Hale modified the rotation by indicating only Greinke, Miller and Corbin had guaranteed spots.
Late last week, Hale increased the number of starters to four. That’s when he added De La Rosa to the rotation. That leaves one spot open, and Hale said the competition for that position should be aggressive. Indicating Ray is in the mix, Hale also gave notice that Archie Bradley, Zack Godley, Tyler Wagner and perhaps a few surprises have entered the assembly.
All of which does not phase the left-handed Ray, who is believed to have the inside track to the final spot. Coming off a 5-12 season but a respectable 3.52 ERA, Ray eased into the rotation by early June, and ended the season with 23 starts. Last season, the issue for Ray was his longevity. The furthest he went in any game was 7.2 innings on July 7 against the Rangers, and pitched into the seventh only three times last season.
“The problem was fast ball command,” Ray said the other day in the clubhouse at Salt River. “That prevented me from going deep into games, and that’s something I’ve worked on in the off-season.”
While last season was his initial one in major league baseball, Ray, a 24-year-old out of Brentwood, Tenn., indicated the experience represented a great educational tool. Plus, he explored the pitching mind of Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who stressed in their conversations that Ray should progress, in each game, by only thinking about the next pitch.
The result is a more relaxed disposition and greater comfort level. Armed with a notebook crammed with a “to-do” list and a mentor like Johnson at his side, Ray’s confidence level increased dramatically.
Just ask Hale, who said his first outing against hitters earlier this week was impressive. Indicating “his slider was biting,” Hale, at this point, has made no commitment to Ray as the final starter. Standing out there in no man’s land, at least for the time being, Ray is not concerned.
“That last spot is mine to lose,” he said again with that confidence. “You have to trust the ball, and last year, that did not happen. Yes, I’m working on fast ball command, and also on my secondary pitches. I feel good and now, it’s just going out and executing.”
AN IMPORTANT RULE CHANGE
On Thursday, the movers and shakers of Major League Baseball, along with the players’ union, announced a significant change in play around the bases. A new rule now outlines “a bona-fide slide,” which is defined as hitting the ground before the runner reaches the base, and not changing the path of his slide to go after a fielder.
The change was brought about primarily because of the Dodgers’ Chase Utley, who appeared to go out his way to slide directly into the Mets’ Ruben Tejada, who suffered a broken leg on the play, in game two of the National League Division Series last October. Now, a runner must go directly to the bag at second or third and cannot seek out a fielder by sliding “in the neighborhood.” At the umpire’s discretion, the runner can be called out for this rule violation as well as the hitter.
In another change to effect “the pace of play,” time has been cut on visitations to the mound. Visits to the hill by a coach or manager is now set at 30 seconds, and must leave the mound when the clock hits :00. Previously, there was no time limit. The timer on the stadium clock will start at 30 seconds for a mound visit. The 30 second time limit is not in effect for a pitching change.
As well, the between-inning break will now be the same as broadcast commercial time. That time is 2 minutes, 5 seconds for local broadcasts and 2 minutes, 25 seconds for a national broadcast. Last season, the break times were 20 seconds longer than the times now established.