With maximum effort, a Chapman-style delivery, an intimidating presence and a two-pitch mix (he throws a fastball or slider 90 percent of the time), Ray is essentially a closer disguised as a starter — an unusual formula for durability. Yet by finally unlocking his control, Ray forces hitters to swing, which limits his pitches and lets him work deeper in games.
“Opposing hitters know exactly what he wants to do, but he sticks to it,” said Toronto infielder Jake Lamb, a former teammate in Arizona. “When you have an elite fastball and the hitters have to worry about it, it makes his slider that much better.”
Ray has a strong competitor for the Cy Young Award in Cole, the Yankees’ ace, who ranks second to Ray in E.R.A. and strikeouts and has 15 wins to Ray’s 12. But however the voting ends up, Ray has won the bet he made on himself.
“I didn’t want to look back and wish I had done something different,” he said. “I felt like I was being true to myself to just be that guy.”
By that, he means a guy like Johnson, the pitcher he most admired, who has delighted from afar at his former pupil’s progress. Johnson never tried to fix Ray’s mechanics, the essential elements of his transformation. But in helping sharpen the mental edge of another young, wild lefty, Johnson made an impact.
“He inevitably could be the ace of the staff, a guy you could build the rotation around — I think he’s that kind of pitcher, and it looks like things have clicked,” Johnson said. “Left-handers, maybe we’re a little bit slower developers. I know I was. But he’s really come into his own, and I couldn’t be more happy for him.”