Upcoming MLB free agents have fewer games to impress

PHOENIX (AP) — Robbie Ray already knew 2020 would be a big season for his financial future because it’s his last one before becoming a free agent.

Now the Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander has less time to make a strong impression.

Major League Baseball’s coronavirus-delayed 60-game season is much shorter than the usual 162-game grind. That means pitchers like Ray will probably make about 11 or 12 starts instead of the typical 30-plus.

Because of the compressed calendar, the 28-year-old Ray made sure he kept in shape during the spring hiatus from baseball. In his first live work off the mound Sunday, he threw nearly 80 pitches and said he’s very close to being ready for the regular season, which begins July 24 against the Padres.

The motivation is obvious: A bad start to the season could cost him millions of dollars in what’s expected to be a tight free-agent market during the offseason. Conversely, two good months might lead to a big payoff this winter.

“I had the assumption that once everything got fired back up it would be quick,” Ray said. “Show up in three or four days and then camp is 30 days or less. Being the year that it is, I didn’t want to be behind and not able to go out and perform at my best day one.”

Ray’s best year came in 2017 when he made the All-Star team and finished 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA. He was 12-8 with a 4.34 ERA last year and had a career-high 235 strikeouts.

He’s one of several players to watch as MLB preps for its strange season. This week’s focus is on players in the NL West and AL West.

COLORADO ROCKIES: OF David Dahl. The 26-year-old has been one of the game’s best young hitters when he can stay in the lineup. He’s been limited by various injuries throughout his career but was still an All-Star in 2019, when he batted .302 with 15 homers in 100 games.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS: RHP Walker Buehler. The 25-year-old made a big jump in his second full season, making the All-Star team and finishing 14-4 with a 3.26 ERA and 215 strikeouts in 182 1/3 innings. Now that David Price has opted out of the 2020 season, it’s even more vital that Buehler continues his upward progression.

SAN DIEGO PADRES: SS Fernando Tatis Jr. The rising young star was limited to 84 games last season because of injuries but still finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. The Padres were at their best when he was in the lineup and if he plays close to all 60 games this season, they could be surprise contenders in the NL West.

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