Down the stretch, will important players provide critical contributions?

PHOENIX – If the Arizona Diamondbacks believe they are in the chase for a National League wild-card spot, several things need to be aligned.

Of this “wish list,” two appear critical.

First, manager Torey Lovullo needs to get more wins out of starters. Leaning on Zack Greinke to pull the rotation on his coattails remains unrealistic. Of those important to success, the accomplishments lefty Robbie Ray remain crucial. As a complement to Greinke two years ago, Ray was integral in helping the Diamondbacks reach post-season play. With a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies before 28,276 Saturday in Chase Field, Ray evened his season record to 6-6, but more importantly, served notice he is ready to stand along Greinke for the ascent ahead.

The victory was only Ray’s second since May 24 and a recovery from a string of four consecutive wins between April 26 and May 24. That period also included two no-decisions. With the effort on Saturday, Ray lowered his ERA to 3.96, but a distance from his season-low of 3.25 after a non-decision against the Giants in Chase Field on May 19.

At this point, Ray wanted to talk about his team rather than place his effort in perspective.

“I feel really good and this team is playing some really baseball, but taking some tough losses,” Ray told Fancred after Saturday’s game. “We come out grinding every day. So, I feel really good how we’re playing going into the (All-Star) break.”

At the same time, infielder Jake Lamb, just off the disabled list and absent for nearly half the season, needs to supply power and drive in runs. The initial glimpse was evident on Saturday when Lamb deposited his first home run of the season, and first since last June 25 (first at home since last June 14), into the left field bleachers with one on an no outs in the sixth inning. Overall, Lamb contributed with a 2-for-3 night, including walk on an eight pitch at-bat and the homer which created a lead the Diamondbacks did not relinquish.

“I felt really good at all four of my at-bats and really happy with the swings I took,” Lamb told Fancred and other reporters. “If you start thinking about getting that first homer, you start to put pressure on yourself. I’m just trying to stay as relaxed as possible. Sure, it feels good to get the first one, but I'm just trying to put quality at-bats together.”

While Ray’s effort remains relatively consistent, Lamb battled back from two series injuries. First, he chose to undergo surgery last last Aug. 15 to repair fraying of the left rotator cuff. Then, just six games into the current season, he went down with a left quadriceps injury and did not return until June 26.

“The past year has been really, really difficult,” Lamb added “You really only have two options. You can complain about it and whine about it, play the guilt game or the ‘why me.’ I’m trying to as positive as possible and I know what kind of player I can be. Guys on the team know the player I can be and I just take patience. I know eventually I’ll get back but, yeah, it’s been really tough. My body feels really good and my swing is getting close. I loved all my at-bats (Saturday).”

Thanks, but no thanks …

Right-hander Zack Grienke, named to his sixth career All-Star selection, declined to participate. During manager Torey Lovullo’s pre-game media session Saturday, Lovullo revealed Greinke cited personal reasons for his decision, and will not make the trip to Cleveland.

In his place, Pirates’ closer Felipe Vazquez will make his second straight All-Star appearance. This season, the Pittsburgh closer is averaging 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings and complied a 2.19 ERA in games through this past Friday night.

That leaves Ketel Marte as the lone Arizona representative in Cleveland, and Marte will start at second base for the National League.

Through the first half of the season, Greinke was one of the best pitchers in the National League. In 19 starts, Greinke compiled a 10-3 mark and a 2.73 ERA. With nine strikeouts against Colorado this past Friday night, Greinke moved into 32nd place on the all-time strikeout list.

A curtain call …

The Diamondbacks ended their traditional first half with a matinee against the Colorado Rockies on Sunday. The Diamondbacks resume their schedule July 12 in St. Louis.