By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – Detroit Tigers starter Robbie Ray, a rookie filling in for 2013 ERA champion Anibal Sanchez, certainly made the most of his two starts in the big leagues. In 11.1 innings pitched, he allowed nine hits, walked two and gave up just one run.
There are plenty of reasons to dismiss those numbers as flukey – a minuscule sample size, to be sure; ostensibly inferior opponents in the Houston Astos and Minnesota Twins, both in the basements of their divisions; and the fact that pitchers first coming to the big leagues have an advantage early because hitters have not seen them before and because there is not as much film on them to study.
On the other hand, Ray should get credit for what he has done so far. Leading up to his impressive major league debut Tuesday and an even better performance Sunday, Ray pitched well consistently in Toledo, and respected Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski believed in Ray enough to trade away a solid starter in Doug Fister in order to obtain Ray.
Ray’s ERA at this point is 0.79. His WHIP is 0.971. No conclusions about him can be made at this point, of course, but the early optimism is warranted.
Barring more stints on the disabled list from Sanchez or other members of Detroit’s stacked starting rotation, there is not space for Ray right now as a starter. The bullpen, while looking slightly more settled now than earlier in the season, could still use some help. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus did not rule out the possibility of Ray contributing as a reliever.
“We’ll make that decision when we have to,” Ausmus said. “Generally speaking, if you want him to be a starter at the major league level, he needs to pitch as a starter. Now does that mean he can’t fill in in the bullpen? Sure, he absolutely could. But the question is, is it best for Robbie Ray to pitch as a starter or to pitch as a reliever, long-term?”
“We’ve discussed it,” Ausmus continued. “The truth is he probably has to pitch, regardless of where he is. If and when Anibal Sanchez comes back, there’s going to have to be a decision made with him. But I think the best thing for Robbie Ray would be continue to pitch, to continue to work on that curveball and to polish his other pitches so that he can be a major league starter.”
The Tigers used current starter Drew Smyly – always a projected starter – in the bullpen last season, and he proved to be one of the team’s most consistent relievers. While Ray clearly wants to start long-term, he said he is open to doing what Smyly did.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing,” Ray said. “If it is asked of me to pitch the bullpen, great. I’d love to stay up here, but I know that I’m a starting pitcher, but again I’m absolutely open to doing whatever I can do to help the team.”