For 2020, Robbie Ray has extra incentive

PHOENIX – By all accounts, just about everything in Major League Baseball for 2020 will be different. From the number of players initially on the playing roster, the number of games, health and safety protocols, no fans in the stands and limited number of opponents, all point to a significant alteration in the game.

For Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Robby Ray, these changes are now part of his and every other player in the majors daily routines What makes Ray’s season ahead clearly different from nearly every player is entrance into his contract year. That means, the veteran lefty will be a free agent at the end of the up-coming season, and rumors have a Brinks trucks rolling up his house in the off-season.

For the past several years, Ray, who is 28-years-old, has lived with an explosive fast ball and significant strikeout ratio. At the same time, he labored considerably on the mount to the point where his innings were limited and pitch count elevated.

Realizing that 2020 is a watershed season in his baseball career, and significant numbers could mean a significant paycheck, Ray altered his recent off-season preparation. Telling reporters in spring training during February and March he “attacked” the gym, lost weight, built strength and endurance and cut out all dairy from his diet. From a physical and mental vantage, Ray wanted to arrive at Salt River, Arizona’s spring training facility, compelled to have a strong and productive season.

More importantly, he changed vital dimensions of his mechanics and for the few starts before baseball was shut down on March 10, Ray showed a marked efficiency in commanding the strike zone and economy of pitches. The most important change was bringing his arms up directly over his head and this allowed for greater control of the strike zone and direction of his pitches

With the resumption of play just a few weeks away, Ray told reporters during a recent Zoom video he recognizes the urgency of the moment.

‘With everything that is happening and the virus situation, I’m in a tough situation,” he said. “I have two small kids and their health and safety are the most important thing. At the same time, I’m a free agent and need to play. Right now, I’m just trying to do the right thing.”

With the 60-game schedule, Ray figures to get 10 to 12 starts but believes his body of work, over a six-year major league career, will help demonstrate his worth as a free agent. With a potential huge pay day looming straight head, Ray wanted to make sure he was ready, physical, and emotionally, for the season’s start, telling reporters, “I was ready from day one.”

With intense bullpen sessions from mid-March, Ray declared himself in top physical shape and ready to compete at a high level.

“(Ray) is ready for a very competitive season,” said field manager Torey Lovullo. “From the first day of camp in February and when we resumed (July 3), he has been outstanding. His stuff is extremely aggressive.”

Entering the free agent market this fall, Ray draws comparisons to left-hander Patrick Corbin, who were teammates with the Diamondbacks for four years. After the 2018 season, Corbin became a free agent with a 56-54 and 3.91 ERA in six seasons. Coming into this season, Ray is 47-46 and a 4.11 ERA.

In his final year with Arizona in 2018, Corbin earned $7.5 million and if this is Ray’s final season in the desert, he will earn $9.430 million. Entering the free agent market after the 2018 season, Corbin signed a 6-year, $140 million contract (all guaranteed) with the Washington Nationals.

Should Ray turn in a 6-2 record and three no-decisions, for example for the coming season, his numbers align with Corbin and that Brinks truck could arrive at any time this coming off-season.