New Grip Improves Ray's Changeup





WASHINGTON — In Robbie Ray's first foray into the full-season minor leagues, the biggest change he made was to his changeup.

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound lefthander worked with pitching coach Chris Michalak on finding a new grip on his offspeed pitch. Combined with a low-90s fastball and a sometimes devastating slider, the changeup helped him go 2-3, 3.13 with 95 strikeouts in 89 innings at low Class A Hagerstown. Ray has switched from a circle change to a three-finger change.

"I just gave him a couple of different ideas," said Michalak, who has moved up to high Class A Potomac and likely will coach the 20-year-old again in 2012. "He tried them and found the one he liked, which has kind of a pitchfork grip. He really started gaining confidence with it. He threw it quite a bit. We almost force guys to throw it as they're learning, and it became a good pitch for him."

Ray joined Hagerstown in May after a stint in extended spring training. After throwing one scoreless inning in a short-season cameo in 2010, he made 20 starts last year and then went to instructional league.

Out of high school in Brentwood, Tenn., Ray signed for $799,000 as a 12th-round pick in 2010 instead of attending Arkansas.

"It was a tough decision that came down to the day before the signing-day cutoff," Ray said. "I chose Arkansas because I liked the players and coaches and they have a really good program, but I definitely think I made the right choice."

Ray, whose fastball was clocked in the mid-90s when he was in high school, rarely has ratcheted it up to that level in the minors. Though he threw one or two fastballs at 95 mph during a start at Greensboro last year, he's usually in the 89-92 mph range with a 78-80 mph slider.

"It's where any of the three pitches could be the best for me, depending on the day," Ray said.

CAPITAL GAINS

• The club claimed third baseman Carlos Rivero off waivers from the Phillies and put him on its 40-man roster. Last year, the 23-year-old righthanded batter hit .275/.331/.440 in 491 at-bats at Double-A Reading and .185/.233/.444 in 27 at-bats at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

• Righthanded reliever Ben Graham made national news with his successful marriage proposal to Janae Kram, a cheerleader for the NFL's Tennessee Titans. The proposal came while Graham was dressed as Santa Claus during a halftime show. Graham went 4-4, 3.30 in 46 innings with eight saves at Hagerstown in 2011.