- - Thursday, April 26, 2018

Robbie Ray was a minor league pitcher in the Nationals system when he was traded to the Detroit Tigers in December 2013, as Washington acquired veteran pitcher Doug Fister.

“My wife is from western Michigan and we were up there in Grand Rapids for Thanksgiving,” Ray recalls. “Her parents were ecstatic about it, being from Michigan. It was a pretty cool for them.”

The second time he was traded was even better.

After making his major league debut in nine games with the Tigers in 2014, he was dealt to Arizona after the season. Since then, he’s become a fixture in the D-backs starting rotation.

The hard-throwing lefty, named to his first National League All-Star team last season, is slated to start on Sunday at Nationals Park in the finale of a three-game series. It will be his third career start with the Diamondbacks at Nationals Park.

“It is kind of fun. It is the team that I came up in (the system) and the team that developed me,” said Ray, 26, prior to Arizona’s game on Wednesday in Philadelphia.

His message to the Nats: “You didn’t make a mistake by choosing me.”

They certainly didn’t.

The Nationals took Ray as a 12th-round pick out of high school in Tennessee in 2010, and he began working his way up the minor league system. Playing in the minors at Harrisburg, his roommate was outfielder Steven Souza, Jr., now his teammate in Arizona.

Ray keeps in touch with some of his former minor league teammates, including Nationals relievers Matt Grace and Sammy Solis. He notes the trio has a kinship as lefty pitchers.

Talking about the Nationals’ reputation for developing pitchers, he said the organization deserves credit for its low-risk approach.

“I think honestly they get you on a (throwing) schedule early,” he said. “They are really careful with their young arms. Coming out of high school I hadn’t thrown a lot of innings. They were really careful with me.”

And the Nationals were certainly careful in 2012 with Stephen Strasburg, and the club took a lot of heat for shutting him down prior to the National League playoffs following Tommy John surgery.

Ray points out things have worked out well for Strasburg (2-2, 2.97), the Nationals starter Friday against Arizona.

“Obviously the game starts and ends on the mound,” Ray said. “You want to take care of those guys. The thing with Strasburg, things like that happen. I felt they did a good job of getting him back on the field.”

Ray said he was a power pitcher in the minors with the Nationals, but strayed from his strengths early in his tenure with the Tigers.

He went back to his roots with the Diamondbacks, and last season, struck out 218 batters in 162 innings while going 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 28 starts. He relies on a four-seam fastball that has averaged almost 93 mph this year.

He struck out a season-high 11 batters on Tuesday in Philadelphia, but did not figure in the decision as he gave up five hits, three walks and three runs in 42/3 innings. Ray was not able to get through the fifth inning and qualify for the win, though first-place Arizona won, 8-4.

He’s 2-0 with a 5.13 ERA in five starts this season. He doesn’t figure to change his approach Sunday against the Nationals, whom he has never beaten in four starts.

“The way the scouting and analytics is these days you have so much information,” he said. “Ultimately I am going to stick with my game plan. I never want to get beat on something I don’t do” as well.

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