NEW YORK -- It's not always a straight line from rehab to recovery.
Chris Ray's elbow has been surgically repaired and his velocity has returned, but he's still a long way from being the pitcher he was before his injury. Ray, who has worked to an 8.53 ERA in his first 15 appearances, is still trying to get comfortable on the mound and find a release point he can repeat time and time again.
"When I go out there, I throw some pitches that feel real good," he said. "And I try to throw the same pitch again and something feels off. I think it's just a matter of going out there and getting my work in at the same time. I don't want to go out there and hurt the team, so when I get out there, I want to put up zeroes."
It's that conflict -- that of working back to full strength while in a competitive setting -- that defines Ray's early struggles. The Orioles have a similar test case in Danys Baez, who is thriving after undergoing a similar surgery and rehab process. Still, Baltimore manager Dave Trembley isn't surprised by Ray's progress.
"You have to be realistic -- the guy missed an entire year," said Trembley on Wednesday. "I think the positives are that his velocity is up, so his arm feels good. It's like I said last night: 'He hasn't been consistent with his location, and that's probably a result of him not being consistent with his delivery.' As far as his velocity and the life on his pitches and health-wise, that's OK. I think the other things are things we can work on and improve."
Ray, a former closer, has been protected by Trembley early in the season. And that isn't likely to change. The Orioles will likely reduce some of the late-game responsibilities for Ray in the foreseeable future, choosing instead to use him in low-pressure settings where one pitch won't mean the difference between wins and losses.
"We have to get him in some less pressure situations where he has some breathing room and the ability to make some mistakes and get through it," said pitching coach Rick Kranitz. "Every situation has been nut-cracking time, and maybe he's just not ready for it right now because he's just not locating the way he normally locates."
Ray, who allowed five runs and didn't record an out in Tuesday's 9-1 loss, said that he still feels confident about his ability to get outs. Both Trembley and Ray said that they haven't discussed the possibility of continuing his recovery in the Minor Leagues, giving the team an urgency to make things work in the Majors.
"You've always got to be at your best," said Ray. "It's just the fact that it's a little more difficult to be up there right now as opposed to before my injury. It's just going to take me working at it every day."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.