SAN FRANCISCO – For years, Ray Black’s name has come with a few extra words. When the right-hander got into a game in spring training, or was discussed by the Giants, it was always “Ray Black, who has a fastball that has hit 104.”
The heater has gotten Black to the big leagues. But to stay here, he’ll have to do more than light up the radar gun. As intimidating as 100 mph might look when it flashes across the scoreboard, big league hitters will light up even the best fastball if they know it’s coming. That’s why Black’s second appearance was so encouraging.
Black had given up three runs in his debut, one of his fastballs sailing deep into the seats.
But he felt much more settled as he took the mound Tuesday, sandwiching two sliders around a 98 mph fastball to get ahead of Willson Contreras 1-2. Naturally, Black knew how he wanted to finish the All-Star off. Nick Hundley, his veteran catcher, had other ideas.
“I shook him once,” Black said Wednesday morning, laughing. “He put down the same sign and let me know, ‘Hey, this is the pitch, kid.'”
Black wanted to throw a fastball. Hundley insisted on a curveball, and Black delivered a 79 mph beauty that dropped right at the bottom of the strike zone. Contreras froze, and then slowly walked back to the visiting dugout. The Cubs learned a lesson about the rookie right-hander. Black did, too.
“I think a lot of times guys will always resort to their best pitches,” he said. “Guys will say that if they get beat they want to get beat on their best. For me, I’m a fastball thrower and guys know it’s coming. But in that situation, to trust a guy like (Hundley) behind the plate and understand the count and the situation, you just (have to) trust the secondary stuff there.”
In a traditional way, the secondary stuff is not as sexy. Black will always be known for the fastball that sat 98-99 in his first two outings and certainly will tick higher as he gets more comfortable up here. But we’ve moved into the spin-rate era, and Statcast loves Black’s secondary stuff. The curveball to Contreras had a spin rate of 3174 RPM, which is a level hit by just three other Giants pitchers this year: Chris Stratton, Sam Dyson and Pierce Johnson. He later threw a curve to Kyle Schwarber, called a ball, that had a spin rate of 3336 RPM. Only two curveballs thrown by Giants this season – one each by Stratton and Dyson – have had higher spin rates.
It’s an extremely small sample, but Black certainly has the makings of a strong secondary pitch that will keep hitters from loading up on his fastball. Black was this week’s guest on The Giants Insider Podcast and you can hear much more about his repertoire and long path to the big leagues by streaming it here or downloading it on iTunes here.