In his second go at the Carolina League, Washington's No. 10 prospect Robbie Ray has turned things around. Literally.
After posting a 6.56 ERA in 22 appearances (21 starts) in 2012, the left-hander has returned to Class A Advanced Potomac with refined mechanics -- including a new arm slot and an added hip turn in his windup.
On Wednesday, the hurler continued the resurgence, dropping his ERA to 2.32 and improving his record to 4-2 with 6 2/3 four-hit innings in the P-Nats' 5-0 win over the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. He struck out seven and walked just one.
"It's a great feeling," the 21-year-old said. "It's a really big turnaround."
The native of Brentwood, Tenn. struggled with his command in 2012. Prior to his last start of the season, pitching coach Chris Michalak suggested Ray try something new -- adding a slight hip turn as he raises his front leg and lifting his arm slot to what Ray called a "high three-quarters" release.
The adjustments felt natural enough to Ray, so he decided to stick with them in his offseason workouts and carried them into this season. So far, so good.
"It's allowing me to keep my body going straight toward the hitter, toward the plate," he said. "Last year, I was flying open and leaving everything arm side."
The mechanical flaw had been an issue for most of his baseball life, but the issues compounded themselves as he worked against tougher competition in 2012. He's cleaned up his mechanics and also improved his mental approach since then. And for the first time in his career, the 2010 12th-round pick considers himself more pitcher than thrower.
"Last year, I thought I could just come out and throw stuff and it'd be good," he said. "I didn't know how to pitch to hitters. This year, I have more knowledge of what to throw in what counts, whereas last year, I was trying to blow it by guys. I'm a little more selective about my pitches."
The results are evident across his stat sheet. He's raised his strikeouts-per-nine innings from 7.32 to 11.76 while maintaining a walk rate just above four. He's also cut his home runs-per-nine innings from 1.19 to .29, allowing just two roundtrippers in 62 innings.
Ray has yet to allow more than two runs in a game this season.
"Tonight, I was pitching in the zone and letting my defense do the work," he said. "I was able to go out there and put the ball in the zone and see what they did with it."
The win was Potomac's eighth straight. Washington's No. 5 prospect, Michael Taylor, aided the effort with a double and an RBI, although he did strike out four times. Randolph Oduber and Francisco Ciriano both finished 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run.