Prospect Ray "opening up eyes" with solid start

Nationals pitching prospect Robbie Ray had a solid first outing last week, tossing two innings, allowing no hits and no runs. The left-hander threw a light bullpen Saturday and expects to pitch again Tuesday, possibly extending to three innings.

Ray was pleased with his first chance in a game. He worked in his three main pitches: fastball, changeup and slider.

"I was feeling pretty good," the 19-year old Ray said. "My fastball was locating well, from 90 to 93 miles per hour. The fastball was running off the plate on righties and coming inside on lefties. It was looking good.

"The changeup is my best pitch. It was getting swinging strikes. The slider was looking good, but I only threw it a couple of times. I threw it to a lefty and it was a swinging third strike."

Single-A Potomac pitching coach Paul Menhart liked what he saw.

"Robbie is doing great," Menhart said. "He really is. Consistency and experience is all he is lacking right now. He definitely has opened up eyes here with not only his youth but his ability to be very poised. The cleanliness of his arm action and his body awareness have been quite impressive."

Ray is impressed with the talent he has seen in camp in Viera, Fla., after a couple of weeks of work.

"There is a lot of young talent here," Ray said. "It surprised me. Everybody came out to spring training looking really good and gave it their all. It is not just the young guys, it is the older guys, too. They are seeing all the young guys coming in and they are stepping up their game. It is a good competition."

Ray remembers that first day he walked into Nationals Park in August and how the Nationals front office and players made a big impression on him and his family. Ray got to meet and speak with Nationals pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Jason Marquis during the visit.

"When I came to the park, I was about 50-50 between going to college and signing a professional contract," Ray said. "They really laid it on heavy when I got to the park. When I went to talk to them in the room, they had the jersey there with my high school number. It made my decision for me. It was a great experience. It jump-started everything."

Ray signed the deal and then began a serious offseason workout program.

"I was throwing light bullpen every three days," Ray said. "Every day, I would long toss in between each bullpen. I was lifting five days a week. I took Saturday and Sunday off to recuperate, but I still threw on those days. I just got after it.

"It was very intense. It was probably the hardest workout I have ever done. A lot of power lifting and a lot of running."

The 6-foot-2, 200-lb. Ray already feels the changes he made and the strength he added.

"There is a huge difference," Ray said. "I put on 15 to 20 pounds. You can carry yourself different. On the mound, you have more mound presence. You can tell the difference. You have a little more behind the ball. Your ball is a little heavier."

Accelerated camp is also time to improve and adjust mechanics. The coaches are working on Ray's delivery to the plate to add more power.

"I kind of sweep across my body when I throw," Ray said. "They want me to stay north-south instead of going across my body. When I throw, I pull off and my arm just sweeps across and I lose power and I lose location. (I was doing that) instead of going straight to the plate, coming north and south, finishing the pitch. I am working on that."

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