Last season was something of a setback for Robbie Ray. You can safely say he's on the comeback trail this year.
The Nationals' No. 10 prospect struck out eight and allowed four hits over six scoreless innings Friday night as Class A Advanced Potomac shut down Myrtle Beach, 5-1.
Ray (2-1) gave up only two extra-base hits and issued two walks. The 2010 10th-round Draft pick lowered his ERA through five starts to 1.55, which ranks fifth in the Carolina League.
"I was having success locating [my fastball] in and out and I really had a feel for my curveball," he said. "I've been struggling with that and I've been focusing on that. Those two pitches were working for me the most."
Ray also throws a changeup that saw limited use on Friday, thanks to some things he noticed in the swings of the Pelicans.
"I used it when I thought it was necessary, I got a strikeout with it, but I didn't use it as much as I usually do," he said. "I noticed that a lot of the batters had a long, slow swing and I was trying to get it past them with the fastball and didn't want to speed their bats up with the changeup."
After going 4-12 with a 6.56 ERA in 22 games for the P-Nats last season, Ray put the finishing touches on an impressive opening month. He leads the Carolina League with 34 strikeouts in 29 innings and boasts a .186 opponents' average.
"I'm just staying focused and working low in the zone," Ray said of his success. "The big thing for me on my bullpen days is working on stuff that I need to work on for my next outing. I'm very pleased, I'm excited for what's coming."
For the second time in three games, Kevin Keyes hit a long home run, this time hitting the scoreboard in left-center field at TicketReturn.com Field. On Wednesday night, the slugger broke a bulb on one of the left field light poles at Carolina's Five County Stadium.
"It's great," Ray said. "You know every day when he's up there you're gonna have run support. He hits the ball with the most force I've ever seen. It's something special."
Michael Taylor, the Nationals' No. 5 prospect, added a three-run shot.
Ben Hawkins followed Ray for Potomac and retired two batters, getting charged with a run on three hits. Tyler Herron and Derek Self combined for 2 1/3 hitless innings to finish up.
Drew Robinson hit a solo homer for the Pelicans.