LOS ANGELES -- Last year, D-backs left-handed pitcher Robbie Ray could have celebrated his 218 strikeouts, or lamented a 4.90 ERA -- the highest such figure for a 200-strikeout man since the Browns' Bobo Newsom's 5.08 in 1938.
Instead, he built a strategy that has put him in an important position -- as the starter Saturday night against the Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile. The D-backs dropped the series opener of the best-of-five series Friday, 9-5.
"I knew I had good stuff," Ray said. "I knew that was the biggest thing going into the offseason, adding another pitch. I felt like if I could add one more pitch to my arsenal, it would help all my other pitches."
Not limited to his fastball when he needed to enter the strike zone, Ray was just a little more efficient -- which made him a lot more successful. Interestingly, in 12 1/3 fewer innings (162 this year, 174 1/3 last year, he was exactly the same in strikeouts (218) and walks (71).
While he can throw the curve for strikes, Ray has been extremely adept at making batters chase it. According to Statcast™, Ray has gained 57 swinging strikes this year on non-borderline pitches (fifth-most among all MLB pitchers) -- mostly way below the zone. He yielded just a .190 batting average against on the pitch.
Robbie Ray added a curve this year. It's worked wonders. He got 57 swinging strikes on non-borderline balls, 5th-most in MLB on curves. pic.twitter.com/U5MwBP6zNH
Results weren't immediate. However, after Ray coughed up four runs on six hits, including two homers, in a home loss to the Pirates on May 14, he posted a 2.24 ERA and a .185 batting average against in his final 20 outings. Even a scary incident on July 28 -- when he was hit in the head by a line drive from the Cardinals' Luke Voit and missed a month -- couldn't stop him.
And Ray has had success against the Dodgers. After yielding five runs and nine hits in 5 1/3 innings, yet earning the decision in the D-backs' 11-5 victory at Chase Field on April 22, Ray held the Dodgers to two runs and 12 hits in 20 1/3 innings over three starts. He was 1-0 with a 0.92 ERA at Dodger Stadium in the regular season.
"Obviously, the atmosphere here is different," Ray said. "The fans are loud. It's pitching against the best team in baseball, so you obviously want to bring your A game, your best stuff."
Suddenly, Ray fulfilled the promise that made teams trade for him twice before he ever reached the Majors. A 12th-round Nationals pick out of Brentwood (Tenn.) High School in the 2010 Draft, Ray went to the Tigers for pitcher Doug Fister in December 2012, and landed with the D-backs in December 2014 in the three-team maneuver that saw the D-backs send shortstop Didi Gregorius to the Yankees.
"It's a great feeling to be here," Ray said. "It's probably just as good for them [the D-backs] knowing that they made the right decision."
There was just a small complication in the decision to start him in Game 2.
It was speculated that Ray would start Friday's series opener, but manager Torey Lovullo needed him for 2 1/3 innings in Wednesday's crazy 11-8 victory over the Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game. He threw 34 pitches (after a 32-pitch warmup), allowing one run on two hits with three strikeouts.
It didn't take long for Lovullo to name Ray the Game 2 starter after checking with him after his throwing program Thursday.
"So within three or four minutes, I could tell by the look in his eyes that he wanted the ball tomorrow and he was ready," Lovullo said Friday.
Zack Greinke's start will come on a normal four days of rest. He opened Wednesday's game with three scoreless innings but was pulled in the fourth after giving up four earned runs. Against the Dodgers, for whom he pitched from 2013-15, Greinke was 1-2 with a 3.65 ERA in four starts this season. At Chase Field, site of Game 3, Greinke went 13-1 with a 2.87 ERA in the regular season.