THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo
Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish was talking to his coaches in the dugout, and Robbie Ray knew the topic of the conversation.
Ray had thrown eight shutout innings Wednesday against Indianapolis, and the discussion focused on whether he would get a chance to complete the game.
“I went up to them and told them, ‘I want the ninth [inning] — give me the ninth,’” Ray said. “I told them I felt good, and so they told me to take it.”
So Parrish granted Ray’s wish. Unfortunately, the Indians’ Adalberto Santos worked Ray for a 3-2 count, then fouled off five straight pitches before striking out. So Kevin Whelan came out of the bullpen to complete Toledo’s 2-0 win.
But the game’s star was Ray, who allowed just four hits and one walk in 8 1/3 innings while striking out seven.
“He had a good angle, and he threw strikes,” Parrish said of Ray. “And he was throwing 93-94 mph in the ninth.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Mud Hens vs. Indianapolis, 4/23
Ray threw 106 pitches, 69 of which were strikes. And a large percentage were fastballs, which the lefty said was by design.
“During the bullpen session before the game I had all of my pitches going,” Ray said. “But early in the game we noticed they were late on my fastball, so we went fastball-dominant.”
Ray, who came to the Detroit Tigers organization as part of the trade that sent Doug Fister to Washington, also got some help from the defense. Catcher James McCann threw out two potential base stealers, and third baseman Mike Hessman had several strong plays at third base, snaring a sharp line drive in the third and charging a slow roller to record an out in the eighth.
“Hessman was making plays at third base, and James was throwing guys out,” Ray said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.
“Your mound presence is better [when the defense is good] because you know you can throw it in the [strike] zone and the guys behind you are going to make plays.”
The Mud Hens needed Ray to be sharp because the offense managed just three hits.
The first came in the fifth when McCann hammered a home run to left off Indians starter Jay Jackson.
“I was just trying to put a good swing on the ball,” McCann said. “We didn’t have any hits at that point.”
The catcher said getting a lead was a pick-me-up for his team’s struggling offense.
“It was like a big weight off our shoulders to jump ahead and not have to come back,” McCann said. “When things aren’t going your way, it’s easy to get down.”
Hessman gave the Mud Hens an insurance run in the sixth when he pounded a long home run to left-center off former Toledo pitcher Andy Oliver.
It was his third home run this season.
Hessman has 392 home runs in the minor leagues in his quest to become just the eighth hitter with 400. He also has 247 home runs in the International League and needs 11 more to tie the league record.