An unlikely name has emerged as a potential front-runner in the American League Cy Young conversation: Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Robbie Ray.
After another dominant win (his 11th on the season) in his last outing against the Oakland Athletics in which he pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and only one hit, Ray was named this week’s AL Player of the Week.
This comes on the heels of a blistering month of August. The 29-year-old earned AL Pitcher of the Month honors with a 1.88 ERA and 52 strikeouts in six starts, lowering his 2021 ERA to 2.60 (best in the AL) and raising his strikeouts to 212 (second only to the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole in the AL).
On Sunday against Oakland, Blue Jays fans showed their appreciation with a prolonged standing ovation when Ray left the game in the seventh inning. He had just struck out his 10th A’s hitter, making him the first pitcher in franchise history with four consecutive double-digit strikeout starts.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 5, 2021
“He’s probably the best pitcher in baseball right now, from what I’ve seen,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said on Sunday. “When he takes that mound, everybody feels he’s going to give you a chance.”
A lot has changed in a year. Last September, Ray was nearing the end of what was his worst season in the majors since his rookie year in 2014 with Detroit.
He had fallen out of the regular starting pitching rotation with the Arizona Diamondbacks as his ERA skyrocketed and he led the NL in walks given up. Ray appeared in only seven games before being traded to Toronto at the end of August, and he concluded the COVID-shortened 2020 season with some of the worst statistics for a starting pitcher in MLB (2-5 record, 6.62 ERA).
Ray has found himself in trying positions before, but that’s when God has been most at work. He had grown up attending church, but it wasn’t until the 2012 offseason, following a disappointing year in the minor leagues (he was drafted out of high school by Washington in the 12th round of the 2010 MLB Draft), that God brought him to saving faith in Christ.
“I went home that offseason and I thought I was done,” Ray told Sports Spectrum in 2018. “I thought baseball was done. I was like, ‘God, why are you doing this to me? Why?!’”
Ray said God answered: “’I’m not doing this TO you. I am doing this FOR you. So you can see that life is bigger than just baseball. I have a purpose for you.’ It’s like He was saying, ‘I have given you this great opportunity, this awesome platform and you’re squandering it. I gave you this gift of baseball to reach out to people and you’re doing nothing with it.’”
That’s when Ray really fully realized that he was playing for himself rather than playing to honor God.
Now, Ray describes himself as a “Follower of Christ” and references Matthew 5:16 in his Twitter bio.
“‘In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.'” — Matthew 5:16
— Robbie Ray (@RobbieRay) August 28, 2016
Despite Ray’s heroics on the field and a recent stretch of nine wins in 10 games, the Blue Jays will need help to maneuver their way into the postseason. They are 12 games back of the first-place Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East and two games behind the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card race with just less than a month left in the regular season.
Ray’s next scheduled start is at Baltimore on Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET.
– Robbie Ray says Christ has sustained him through his baseball journey
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– GET IN THE GAME PODCAST: Nick Hundley – former MLB player