Chris Ray may have gotten everything he needs to restore his confidence, courtesy of a ninth-inning closeout in a six-run game. Ray, Baltimore's erstwhile closer, worked the ninth Saturday for the second time since injuring his elbow during the 2007, season and he came away feeling energized and excited about his role.
All it took was one mechanical adjustment and one brush with adversity. Ray, who fixed a minor part of his throwing motion on Friday, allowed a one-out double to push two runners into scoring position on Saturday night. And then once he was backed into that tight spot, Ray got two strikeouts to end the game.
"I definitely felt it," Ray said. "The fans were standing up and cheering and stuff. I got the blood going, and I appreciate them getting behind me like that. I felt like a totally different pitcher than I had the last couple times. I felt like I was rushing, and it could be because I was excited to be back and trying to do too much too fast."
And when he says back, he doesn't mean at Camden Yards. Ray missed the entire 2008 season due to surgery on his right elbow and was one of Baltimore's most intriguing pitchers in Spring Training. But then he was hit hard in his first two regular-season appearances, one of which was a ninth-inning stint in a blowout loss.
Although his velocity was fine, Ray couldn't help but wonder why he didn't feel like he was at his best. The reliever spent some time looking over video with pitching coach Rick Kranitz and came to a simple conclusion.
"Kranny and I went over some video and saw that I've been collapsing on my back leg," said Ray, who has 49 career saves. "The last time I pitched, my arm was lower than sidearm. We went back and [Friday] I threw a bullpen [session] -- kind of working on some things. It just felt a lot better. I was able to get on top of the ball."
Kranitz said that the arm slot affected all of Ray's pitches, causing his offspeed stuff to come out flat and his fastball to not sink as much. Once he got more leverage, everything started coming out better.
"It was just something that he felt himself, and by looking at tape, he knew he needed to be a little bit higher," said Kranitz. "More than anything, he has to have his hand on top of the ball longer."
The Orioles still expect to use Ray as a late-inning bridge to closer George Sherrill, but it's possible that he'll poach some save opportunities as the season progresses. And for one night -- even in a game that wasn't technically close -- Baltimore was glad to see glimpses of the steely demeanor it saw before his injury.
"You could just see the old closer in him come out -- how he reacted when he got pressed against the wall against a couple pretty good hitters," said Kranitz. "You could see the quality of the pitch was extremely good."
"That was big for him," added catcher Gregg Zaun. "He's really throwing the ball well. He missed on some key pitches in the last couple outings -- coming in with a good pitch to hit. I kind of knew how he was feeling, so I just kind of figured, 'You know what? I don't care what happens right here. This is important for him to have a good outing.'"
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less