CHICAGO -- The Tigers acquired prospect Robbie Ray in last fall's Doug Fister trade with an eye toward their rotation of the future. With Anibal Sanchez on the disabled list, Detroit in need of a spot starter and Ray tearing up batting orders at Triple-A Toledo, the future is coming a little sooner than expected.
The Tigers made official what had been suspected for the past few days, announcing Ray as their scheduled starter for Tuesday's game against the Astros at Comerica Park. That's the day they'll finally need a fifth starter again after going more than a week without one thanks to off-days, rainouts and the Sanchez injury.
The 22-year-old left-hander will make his Major League debut a year after he was pitching in High Class A ball in the Nationals' system. He had 11 starts at the Double-A level when Detroit acquired him as the prospect centerpiece in the much-scrutinized Fister trade.
The Tigers made an aggressive promotion with Ray by putting him at Triple-A Toledo to open this season. After five starts for the Mud Hens, he has handled International League hitters far beyond his age.
Ray picked up his third win of the season Tuesday with five shutout innings and five strikeouts, extending his scoreless streak to 16 1/3 innings over his last three outings. He fell two outs shy of a shutout April 23, allowing four hits and a walk with seven strikeouts against a talented Indianapolis squad that includes Pirates prospect Gregory Polanco.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Wednesday that Ray will pitch one inning for Toledo on Friday, giving him one final bit of preparation on his normal turn while not tiring him out ahead of his start three days later.
"He's pitched very well for them his last few starts," Ausmus said. "He's been outstanding. And with Sanchez down, we need someone to fill his slot and hopefully do it well.
"He's still learning, and he's certainly not a finished product, even now. We think he's got the stuff to be able to get big-league hitters out, but he's definitely still in the learning process as a pitcher."
The Astros entered Wednesday batting about 40 points higher against left-handers (.235) than righties (.195), but for a low batting average nonetheless. As opponents go, it's a relatively good setup for a young pitcher to break into the big leagues.
If all goes well and the Tigers don't have another rainout beforehand, Ray would presumably get one more start against the Twins at Comerica Park on May 11. Sanchez is eligible to come off the disabled list the next day.
Coincidentally, Ray will make his Major League debut the day before Fister makes his Nationals debut. Fister opened the season on the disabled list with a right lat strain.
The Tigers will need to make roster moves to fit Ray on both the 25- and 40-man rosters. Most likely, they'll take care of the 25-man roster by dropping their bullpen back to seven relievers. The 40-man move is more complicated, since they've already put Bruce Rondon, Jose Iglesias and Andy Dirks on the 60-day DL.