During an appearance at the ESPN Zone in the inner harbor Wednesday, Chris Ray reflected on the lonely time spent in Sarasota last season while rehabbing from reconstructive elbow surgery which cost him the 2008 season.
Before signing autographs, Ray spoke to fans, recalling how tedious, and at times downright boring, the rehab process can be.
Also because of the isolation of a long, slow rehab program, he said he tended to feel like he was no longer part of the team.
But every morning he was there at 8 a.m. to begin that day's session. He was told what he could do, what he couldn't do, and how often he could do it. It began with simple tosses and eventually late last summer he graduated to nine minor league relief appearances to get back on a mound and into game action.
As Ray found out, there are no short cuts for a pitcher coming back from major arm surgery. He would do his work, find some way to fill the day, and then watch the Orioles on MASN at night. That was his routine. As a professional and a competitor it was so unlike anything he was accustomed to.
But his hard work paid off and he is back with the Orioles. And now , Ray is trying to find the consistency he enjoyed as the Orioles closer in 2006 and 2007 when he saved 49 games before his elbow injury.
Ray had a solid spring training and at times this season he has pitched very well. In his first 12 appearances he has allowed runs in five games and has not allowed a run in the other seven.
He had a stretch of six consecutive scoreless appearances from April 11-April 27, covering 5.2-innings. But he then had three straight rough outings, allowing 4 runs in a total of just 2 innings. And that's why his search for consistency continues.
Ray has worked hard with pitching coach Rick Kranitz to make sure his mechanics are sound. He has studied video of good outings and bad outings. And he has worked extra on the side to iron out any flaws in his approach. Big league hitters don't miss mistakes and mistakles are what Ray is trying to minimize.
Like his rehab last summer, Ray knows this is a process that can't be rushed. The patience of getting it right is what will lead to consistent success.
As any late inning reliever in the major leagues knows, your performance is always front and center. Get out of a big jam and everyone notices. Allow a lead to slip away and it's noticed even more. That's the job. And it's a job Ray enjoys. He wants the ball in big spots to get big outs. For now that could be the 7th or 8th innings to help maintain a lead, but whatever role he is asked to fill, he's open to it.
THe 25-year-old has a tremendous arm and has the mental makeup to close out games--he's already proven that. And he's still a major part of the Orioles bullpen.
He's made it all the way back. All that remains now is consistency.