Ray rakes, but fifth-inning woes continue

Ray rakes, but fifth-inning woes continue

PHOENIX -- D-backs manager Chip Hale wanted to keep Robbie Ray in Monday night's 6-4 loss to the Rays for -- surprisingly -- his offense. However, Hale couldn't leave the left-handed starter in because of more middle-inning struggles on the mound.

"Boy, he looked so good, he's rolling. He swung the bat great," said Hale. "I didn't want to take him out. I wanted his bat in the lineup, but it's just that bugaboo of the fifth inning."

Ray's night started off grand. He pitched three scoreless innings and then worked out of a jam in the fourth inning to hold Tampa Bay to one run in the frame.

In the batter's box, Ray shined even more. He blasted his first career home run off Rays starter Chris Archer to lead off the third and then contributed a single in the fourth for the first multihit game of his career.

So when the fifth began, Ray was pitching with a 2-1 lead. Yet again, that's when trouble ensued for the 24-year-old.

Ray gave up a leadoff double to Mikie Mahtook, followed by a go-ahead two-run home run to Tim Beckham. After Desmond Jennings' RBI double later gave Tampa Bay a 4-2 lead, Ray was lifted after just 4 1/3 innings.

"I felt like I controlled the game there early, better than I had," Ray said. "I think I just try to do too much. Those first four innings, I was just telling myself, 'Nice and easy, get ground balls, get guys out.' And then, fifth inning, it started to snowball a little bit and I just tried to do too much."

It has been a recurring issue for Ray this season. He has only completed six innings once in his last nine starts -- May 16 when he pitched seven against the Yankees -- and hasn't even made it through five innings five times during that stretch.

Ray has a 1.13 ERA in the first and second innings combined this season. He has an 8.27 ERA in the third through fifth innings. And in the fifth inning alone, he has a 14.54 ERA, allowing 14 earned runs in 8 2/3 innings.

"I don't really think about it. It's just another inning," Ray said.

But it's an inning that he has continually struggled in and frequently can't make it past, something that Hale said pitching coach Mike Butcher discussed with Ray following the outing.

"Mike went and talked to him after and just basically laid it on the line here, 'You're going to have to find a way to get through this. You're better than that,'" Hale said. "We need him to get through the fifth and not have to use our whole bullpen when he pitches."

Jake Rill is a reporter for MLB.com based in Phoenix. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.