With Anibal Sanchez landing on the disabled list over the weekend with a lacerated finger on his pitching hand, the Detroit Tigers suddenly find themselves in need of another starting pitcher and will reportedly recall Robbie Ray from Triple-A Toledo in the coming days. Ray, a 23 year old left-hander, will likely start for the Tigers on Tuesday against the Houston Astros in what will be his Major League debut.
Having been the key piece in this past offseason’s trade that shipped Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals, Ray instantly became one of the top young arms within the Tigers organization. Baseball America ranked him as the team’s #4 prospect entering the season and he’d even appear in MLB.com’s Top 100 list (at #91). To date, Ray’s proven those estimations to be correct with a solid showing in his first taste of Triple-A competition. He’s made five starts on the season, totaling 28.1 IP, with a 1.59 ERA, 1.129 WHIP, and career-best 1.6 BB/9. His strikeout rate has seen a dip from prior years (currently at 6.7 K/9, down from the 9.0 K/9 he’s posted throughout his minor league career) but some level of regression could have been anticipated once he started to face tougher competition.
Primarily a ground ball pitcher (he’s allowed just one home run this season), Ray could be primed to grab ahold of a spot in the Detroit rotation if he’s able to impress upon making his arrival for the Tigers. Entering the season Detroit still maintained one of the better rotations in the American League despite the loss of Fister, but the group lacked a truly dominant left-hander which there is some belief Ray could be. Sanchez is only expected to miss a few weeks and should be able to return to the mix by mid-May. If Ray pitches well enough, he could very likely remain in the rotation upon Sanchez’ return rather than being shipped back down to the minor leagues.
Detroit has to be hoping to catch lightening in a bottle here. The organization has received heavy scrutiny for the Fister trade, with most believing that they didn’t receive enough in return for one of their top arms this past season. Left-handed reliever Ian Krol has been serviceable, though not spectacular, in limited appearances out of the bullpen. Steve Lombardozzi, the other piece in the deal, was shipped to Baltimore before the season could begin for Alex Gonzalez, who’s since been released. Ray’s impact on the Tigers will ultimately be the biggest test for whether they made the right call in moving Fister when they did.