O's reliever Ray gaining confidence
Right-hander coming off longest outing of his career
DETROIT -- Chris Ray knows not to make too much of any one outing, but he still can't suppress the feeling that things are starting to come together. Ray made the longest relief stint of his career on Tuesday, when he recorded eight outs against the Tigers, and he felt improved confidence and command on the mound.
And that's huge news for Ray, who has struggled with his release point for much of the year. The right-hander is attempting to put his career back together after a year spent on the sidelines due to ligament replacement surgery on his pitching elbow, and he finally feels like he's begun to figure everything out again.
"Knock on wood, my arm feels great," said the former closer. "I feel right now my mechanics, everything, is clicking. I am going out there, and every single pitch feels the same. And if something goes off, it's just that one pitch and I know how to correct it. It's something that's just been frustrating the heck out of me all year.
"From one day to another, I had no idea where my arm is and I had no idea where the ball is going to go. Now I actually feel comfortable. And I am actually pitching more to contact now."
Ray said his release point previously had wavered from pitch to pitch, causing him to doubt and second-guess himself between offerings. Now, after a trip to the disabled list due to tendinitis in his right biceps and a resulting rehabilitation stint in the Minor Leagues, he feels as good as he has at any point since he hurt his elbow.
"I just go out there," Ray said. "And if they call a fastball away, I just go out there and throw a fastball away, instead of thinking I've got to get my arm here and make sure I get here. Now I am just throwing."
Baltimore manager Dave Trembley has seen how hard Ray has worked at his craft, and he said the former third-round Draft pick should be even better as he gets further removed from his surgery. Right now, Trembley said the best thing for Ray is to pitch in non-pressurized situations and restore his confidence.
"It's not his delivery; it's his arm angle," said Trembley. "I really think there was some issues. I think, before, he was trying to throw too hard. He was way out on top, and it's not natural for him to be up on top. He's high three-quarters, and before he was really trying to be overhand, and it put strain on his shoulder. I think it's best right now to put him in situations that aren't too much for him. Put him in, get him out. Let's build him up."
Still, despite that dictum, Trembley had to extend Ray farther than he'd ever gone on Tuesday night. The Orioles had strained their bullpen to the breaking point on Sunday and then enjoyed a rather light workload on Monday. Ray's performance on Tuesday allowed the rest of the bullpen to reset for the remainder of the road trip.
All along, Trembley said, Ray has been willing to do whatever it takes to help his team. The Orioles had to demote him at one point this season, and Trembley said Ray understood what had to be done.
"He didn't take going back down in a bad way," the manager said. "In fact, he told me the first time we sent him out, 'Hey, I'm not doing anybody any good pitching once every five days. I need to go pitch.' He's got a great attitude, a guy that's come up through the system and went from Double-A to the big leagues. You pull for those kind of guys."
And perhaps more to the point, Tuesday's outing gave Ray something he could rally around. The 27-year-old knows he can pitch better than his 7.82 ERA, and he can see signs of his old form returning.
"It feels kind of like I was in a zone," Ray said. "I didn't feel like I was going out there trying to throw as hard as I could. I was locating and built off the previous outing, in which I was staying out of the middle of the plate."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.