Lefty Ray spins one-hitter as Blue Jays avoid sweep

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Robbie Ray had no-hit stuff on Sunday afternoon at the Trop, where the Blue Jays would drop the host Rays 3-1 to avoid a Tampa Bay sweep in the three-game series.

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The veteran left-hander was lights out, not surrendering his first hit until one out in the bottom of the seventh inning when Yandy Diaz doubled off the fence.

Diaz had earlier drawn a walk off Ray, the only two base-runner the Jays starter yielded in his seven shutout innings.

It wasn’t exactly a must-win proposition for the Jays, but they had been scuffling and needed a shot in the arm heading into MLB’s all-star break.

They got it from Ray, who put together the best start of any Toronto pitcher this season.
For those unaware of Ray’s journey, the Jays acquired the hard-throwing southpaw during last season’s truncated campaign in a trade with Arizona.

The book on Ray was that he threw heat, but the strike zone often eluded him.
Under the guidance of pitching whisperer Pete Walker, Ray has significantly cut down the free passes. Last year, he walked 7.8 batters per nine innings. This year, he is down to a career-best 2.3.

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“I felt really good from the beginning,’’ said Ray during his post-game Zoom call, admitting the idea of a possible no-hitter did cross his mind in the fifth inning.

“My fastball was really good. I was able to pretty much throw it where I wanted. I felt great. I felt really good with my pitches. My fastball was really good. I felt like I was able to pretty much put it where I wanted to.”

Ray recorded 11 Ks, his fifth double-digit strikeout game of the season.
It was also the third time Ray has pitched seven innings in a game — all against Tampa — though Sunday marked his first win of the season against the Rays.
During one stretch, he retired 17 in a row.

“It was awesome,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “It was fun to watch.”
Montoyo also began to think of a no-hitter and even mulled over whether Ray could go anywhere from 115 to 120 pitches.

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The skipper admitted the Jays knew Ray was capable of summoning an outing such as Sunday’s gem.

“That’s why we signed him early,’’ added Montoyo.

“Robbie Ray was brilliant,’’ said batterymate Danny Jansen, who opened the scoring with a solo homer in the third inning. “He was attacking the zone. Robbie has been on the attack all year.
“I’m not surprised he got that far and that close (to spinning a no-hitter). He got ahead strike one and that was big for us.”

Getting ahead of hitters has been critical for Ray, according to Jansen.

“That’s been the difference-maker for sure,’’ said Jansen when comparing last year’s version of Ray to this season’s.

“Being aggressive and staying on the attack has been huge for him.”
Ray is hands down the ace of the staff this season, usurping Hyun-Jin Ryu, whose four-year, $80-million contract now seems like money unwisely spent unless the lefty is able to overcome his recent command issues.

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A few eyebrows were raised when Ray became the first free-agent off the board following his rough 2020 campaign, re-signing with the Jays on a one-year deal worth $8 million US. It’s the best money the franchise has doled out this season.

The question now is whether the Jays will be able to entice Ray to stick around beyond this season, a process that will involve the club to go deeper into its pockets.

Or perhaps the Jays, if they fall out of contention for a wild-card berth, dangle Ray’s name or even second baseman Marcus Semien — a free agent as well this coming off-season — in trade talks prior to the July 30 deadline.

GAME ON

Tim Mayza relieved Ray and worked a flawless eighth. Closer Jordan Romano started the ninth inning and gave up a one-out bomb to Brandon Lowe to put the Rays on the scoreboard. It was Lowe’s seventh long ball in his past nine games, including a two-homer performance against the Jays on Saturday. Romano gave up a two-out single to Diaz but got another noted Jays-killer, Austin Meadows, to foul out on a nice catch by Bo Bichette and end the game … Three of Toronto’s six hits came off the bat of Santiago Espinal as the bottom of the order knocked in all three runs … The Jays enter the all-star break with a record of 45-42 after snapping Tampa’s six-game win streak. They sit 4.5 games out of an AL wild-card berth.

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BO KNOWS HITTING

Bichette is off to Coors Field and the annual mid-summer classic as an AL reserve.
In his final game before the break, the Jays shortstop had an infield single in four at-bats.

For Bichette, Sunday marked his 162nd game in the big leagues.

Through that many games, — which represents one full MLB season — Bichette leads the franchise in hits (203), runs (121), RBIs (101) and extra-base hits (79).

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JAYS TAKE REHABBING PITCHER WITH TOP PICK

The Blue Jays added to their war chest of top prospects on Sunday night, selecting right-handed pitcher Gunnar Hoglund from the University of Mississippi with the 19th overall pick of the annual MLB draft.

Standing at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Hoglund would likely have gone higher in the draft but he underwent Tommy John surgery in this, his junior season at Ol’ Miss, where he posted a 2.87 ERA with 96 Ks and 17 walks in 62.2 innings.

He throws in the mid-90s, with a mid-80s slider and is projected as a mid-rotation starter.

The New York Yankees were reportedly interested in the big hurler with the 20th pick.

The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Louisville catcher Henry Davis as the No. 1 overall pick.

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