Things went awry for Robbie Ray right about here:
That blue number five there ought to have been strike three for Bryce Harper in his first-inning plate appearance against Ray, the Toronto Blue Jays starter whose 7.7 BB/9 this season certainly hasn’t earned him much benefit of the doubt. But you’d expect that benefit to come into play on borderline pitches. This one was right on the plate.
Alas, a ball was called and after Harper fought off a couple tough pitches he got Ray to finally miss and walked. Then Alec Bohm walked behind him and Ray, maybe just a little frustrated by this turn of events, left a fastball up and over the plate for Didi Gregorius, who drove it off the top of the right field wall, cashing Harper from second.
It just changed the entire complexion of the inning, Harper’s walk. Forced to get four outs instead of three, Ray had to throw 30 pitches in the inning, eating up nearly a third of his pitch count on the day. Typically, when you have to work that hard in the first, there are downstream effects. One of them was Ray lasting only 4.1 innings. Another was the Blue Jays falling, 7-0, in the first game of a doubleheader with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Ray actually held the Phillies in check through four, working up with 93-m.p.h. fastballs and down with biting curveballs and sweeping sliders that generated 10 whiffs collectively. He put up 13 swinging strikes in all on a day when his stuff was better than his results. Ray was in and out of the zone, as he tends to be, but still threw 60 per cent of his pitches for strikes and carried over some of the strong signs he featured in his outing prior, which may have been his best of the season.
But about those downstream effects. They materialized in the fifth. After Ray struck out the leadoff hitter, he walked Andrew McCutchen and threw Harper a fastball in his happy zone that the Phillies slugger lifted high and far down the right field line for a homer. Two batters — two singles — later, Ray’s day was done.
Could it have lasted a bit longer, and been a bit more effective, if Ray didn’t have to work so hard in the first? Who’s to say? His line wouldn’t have even looked all that terrible had Thomas Hatch been able to prevent the two runners Ray left on from scoring. But Hatch did, coughing up a pair of hits in relief as the Phillies broke the game open with a five-run inning.
“It honestly started in the first — just throwing too many pitches,” Ray said. “I felt like I had the strikeout there to Harper. Didn’t get the call. Ended up walking him, walking Bohm, and then gave up the run there with the first pitch to Didi. I felt like I settled in after that. But it seemed like the damage had already been done. Throwing 30 pitches in the first inning is not ideal.
“But there was a lot of positives. I felt like my slider was really good today. I felt like my curveball was really good. It was just fastball command that was a little off. The home run was on it. I was trying to go down and away, left it up-middle, and Harper’s a great hitter and he made me pay for it.”
That Ray looked sharp was small solace for a Blue Jays team that has now dropped four consecutively. And a Blue Jays offence that couldn’t get anything going against Phillies starter Zach Eflin, who entered the day with a 5.01 ERA and held Toronto to four hits and two walks over seven innings, striking out eight.
The Blue Jays didn’t muster an extra-base hit and grounded into two double-plays, extinguishing what faint spark they were able to create. As Ray knows well, sometimes calls don’t go your way. But not much will when you create as little life as the Blue Jays did in Game 1 Friday. That Ray’s stuff was sound is about the best that can be said about it. That and the fact Game 2 was only 30 minutes away.