Giants' Hard-Throwing Ray Black Makes Big League Debut
It was Black’s first big league call-up, which completes one of the longest and more interesting climbs through the minors.
Black has one of the best arms in baseball. He’s touched 103-104 mph at his best and has sat in the high 90s for much of the past decade. But unfortunately for him, his body has never been able to handle the stresses that his extremely fast arm can generate.
Going back a decade to 2008, Black has had a long, varied and grueling list of injuries.
It began with Tommy John surgery as he finished high school. That surgery required him to redshirt for his freshman year at Pittsburgh.
As a redshirt freshman a knee injury sidelined him for all but 16.2 innings. He didn’t pitch much more as a redshirt sophomore because he was so wild (26 walks in 20 innings) that the Panthers didn’t feel comfortable using him in a larger role.
But after just 36.2 innings of college experience, the Giants took a chance on Black’s big arm–he was already throwing 94-97 mph–and drafted him in the seventh round.
And then they waited. And Black rehabbed.
Black had already endured the frustration, pain and rehab associated with Tommy John surgery. Now he spent two seasons recovering from labrum surgery on his right shoulder before he ever threw his first pro pitch
Black didn’t make his pro debut until May 2014. At that point he'd spent nearly two years and a month on disabled lists since being drafted. Since that, he has missed time with a hand injury, a lat injury and a bone spur in his elbow that sidelined him for almost all of 2017.
But every time he got on the mound, the arm was still special. Even in a world where 100 mph has become almost common, Black’s 102, 103 and even 104 mph still stands out.
It was that last elbow injury that came close to finishing him off. The Giants dropped him from the 40-man roster last spring. No one else claimed him and the Giants brought him back on a minor league contract.
But this spring and summer, Black is throwing the best he’s ever thrown. The velocity is still plus-plus (he sits in the high 90s and has touched 100-101) but more importantly he’s throwing strikes for the first time as a pro. He struck out 20 in just 10 innings while walking four with Double-A Richmond. After a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento, he struck out 38 and walked seven in 21.2 innings.
Black has already thrown 32 innings this season, which less than four innings short of his career high. The eight-year pro has only 127.2 innings pitched over eight seasons.
The Giants will have to see if Black can hold up, something that he’s never been able to do in the past. But he’s shown some signs this season that he can handle a little bit tougher workload. The Giants have understandably treated Black with extreme caution over the years, giving him plenty of rest after each outing and never letting him carry a heavier workload.
Black twice pitched on back-to-back days with Triple-A Sacramento. That’s important because that’s twice as many back-to-back outings as he had thrown in his previous seven seasons as a pro (his only other back-to-back outing came in April 2016). He’s also thrown more than an inning in an outing once this season. That was his first outing longer than an inning since 2015 (which is the only other year he’s ever had a game where he worked longer than one inning).
Black was immediately thrown into the Giants bullpen and made his big league debut on Sunday, just a couple of hours after he was called up. His big league debut was a rough one. He recorded just one out as he walked two batters and gave up a three-run home run to Matt Carpenter.
Black's story is a great one that shows perseverance and the rewards that come from battling back after injury after injury.
Now the Giants get to find out if he can be more than just a great story.