Baseball / Sports

Ray hopes improved curveball helps in his MLB debut

DETROIT -- Left-handed pitcher Robbie Ray was shopping for a new suitcase at a mall in Syracuse, N.Y., on an off day for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens when he got the news that he would be called up to make his major league debut tonight for the Tigers.

Did he get a nicer suitcase as a result?

"I did," he said before Monday's game against the Houston Astros at Comerica Park. "I got one that I could fit my suit in it."

Ray said he had been using a duffel bag before getting the new luggage.

Ray, 22, was considered the key piece the Tigers acquired when they traded Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals in December. The Tigers also acquired lefty reliever Ian Krol and utlityman Steve Lombardozzi, who has since been traded.

To make room for Ray on the 40-man roster, the Tigers outrighted the contract of first baseman Jordan Lennerton to Toledo on Monday.

It appears that Ray, who will face the Astros tonight, will end up pitching in a major league game before Fister this season. Fister, recovering from a lat strain, is scheduled to start for the Nationals on Wednesday but could have his start bumped back to Friday.

Ray had a 1.53 ERA in six appearances for the Mud Hens, including five starts. He allowed 28 hits and five walks in 291/3 innings with 21 strikeouts.

"I was just being able to throw pitches for strikes, being able to cut down on my walks," Ray said. "That was a big thing and getting early contact."

He allowed one hit in one inning of work in a game against Syracuse on Friday.

Ray said he has been working on improving his curveball since the start of the season. He had previously been working on a slider but has focused on improving his curveball instead.

Ray said being able to throw off-speed pitches for strikes has been a big step this season.

He said he has been able to throw the curveball for a first-pitch strike.

"Working on burying it, being able to throw it 0-2, 1-2 to get a strikeout," he said.

Ray admitted he might be a little nervous in the first inning. That's to be expected.

"I'm sure he'll have some nervous excitement," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.

Ausmus said he didn't see Ray enough in spring training to gauge progress in the curveball but other things stood out.

"Sneaky fastball," Ausmus said. "And he seems calm on the mound. He doesn't seem overwhelmed. He might be churning inside. He doesn't show it."

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