Attacking hitters vital to Ray's rotation bid

D-backs lefty battling this spring for No. 5 spot

Attacking hitters vital to Ray's rotation bid

Part I of a series looking at some of the candidates for the final spot in the D-backs' rotation.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- There are many different statistics you can examine to tell the story of Robbie Ray's 2015 season, but there's one that jumps out when it comes to what the D-backs' lefty needs to improve upon to win a spot in the Opening Day rotation: 4.14.

That's the average number of pitches per plate appearance that hitters saw when facing Ray, the highest total in the Majors.

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It is why, despite a 3.52 ERA and impressive stuff, Ray is fighting for the final spot behind Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, Patrick Corbin and Rubby De La Rosa.

Ray had little trouble getting ahead of hitters last year, but finishing them off was sometimes a different story.

"I think it's about continuing to grow as a pitcher and learning my strengths as well as my weaknesses," Ray said. "I've been working on attacking hitters. I think that's one of the biggest things for me because I get ahead of guys pretty quick -- 0-2, 1-2 -- and sometimes I let those guys off the hook when I go 3-2 and have to leave something over the middle of the plate, or end up walking a guy, a seven-pitch at-bat for nothing. That's the biggest thing for me."

The extra pitches would add up quickly, which limited how deep he could go in the game.

The 24-year-old learned much from his rookie year in the big leagues and plans to adjust not just his pitch selection, but also his mentality once he gets ahead of hitters.

"I was throwing the wrong pitches in the wrong count," Ray said. "Now I have more of an understanding of what pitches to throw in what counts, what guy's strengths and weaknesses are. I need to just go right after guys and attack them. Make them put the ball in play instead of trying to punch them out. If you can get a guy out in two or three pitches instead of five, that would be great."

If he does that, Ray will likely find himself in the rotation, though he will be battling Archie Bradley, Zack Godley and Tyler Wagner, among others.

"He's up to it," manager Chip Hale said. "He's out there every day working. He's been here since January, so he's the one who's going to probably have the No. 1 shot at the fifth spot."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.