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Blue Jays: Robbie Ray finding his form could be huge down the stretch

Mar 19, 2021; Lakeland, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Robbie Ray (38) throws a pitch against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 19, 2021; Lakeland, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Robbie Ray (38) throws a pitch against the Detroit Tigers during the first inning at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports /
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Robbie Ray looks to have found a version of his old self this spring – proving that, when he’s right, he can be a formidable starter in one of baseball’s toughest divisions.

Ray has been remarkable this spring, pitching to the tune of 1.98 ERA in 13.2 innings while racking up a SO/9 rate of 11.9. While Spring Training results are by no means an assurance of regular-season success, Ray’s looked extremely sharp in all of his outings and seems to have addressed what has been holding him back for the last few seasons: throwing strikes.

Ray hasn’t had a strike percentage above 50% in any of the last four seasons– this spring, however, has been a different story. For context, before being dealt to Toronto last season, Ray was averaging a walk per inning for the D-Backs, but this spring, he’s been filling up the zone.

He’s seeing the benefits of consistently throwing strikes, walking only five batters so far this spring– an area that the Jays were banking on seeing improvement when they retained the veteran lefty this offseason.

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But as we see year in and year out, injuries have thrown a wrench in the plans of the club. Things went from bad to worse this week for the Blue Jays. After news broke of George Springer’s oblique injury and the season-ending Tommy John surgery Kirby Yates will undergo, it was announced that Ray had suffered a bruised elbow in a bizarre off-field accident at his home.

Although the injury doesn’t appear to be severe, it’s a tough blow to the Jays who have all but ruled out Nate Pearson starting the year with the club. For Ray, who says he has finally found his rhythm –specifically his landing spot– even a minor injury like this is worrisome in terms of losing the momentum he has built up. Not to say this will be a long-term injury, but the Jays rotation is already thin and can’t afford to have another starter on the IL.

The good news for the Jays is that the elbow issue will likely only keep Ray from pitching again in the spring – the club is hopeful he will be pitching in their opening series against the New York Yankees. He’s set to throw a bullpen in the coming days and assuming there are no major setbacks, we’ll be seeing Ray in either the second or third game of the Yankees series.

Hopefully, Ray missing some time will not affect the rhythm and confidence he has built up this spring. After all, if the Jays are going to be in the hunt for a playoff spot, Ray and the rest of the rotation are going to have to outperform their contracts.

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If he continues to throw strikes and sustains the type of velocity we’ve seen throughout his spring starts, we could be looking at a big bounce-back year for the 29-year-old southpaw.

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