Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Astros

Back to a familiar role, Astros’ Ray Gaither prioritizes consistency in AFL

Houston Astros' Ray Gaither
Ray Gaither | Credit: Ben Zaragosa

For a career defined by hurdles, Ray Gaither took a leap in his third season.

Gaither’s last two years in the Houston Astros system weren’t smooth sailing. The righty missed two months in 2022 for High-A Asheville with a rotator cuff injury, one he defined as a “fluke” flare-up that stemmed from offseason training.

“I need to modify my offseason workload, so when I come in, it doesn’t push me over that boiling point,” said Gaither, who gained velocity on his pitches the last two offseasons. “I tend to push it pretty hard in the offseason and prepare my body for the year and try to continue to make strides.”

Gaither, 25, underwent a second setback this past spring. Entering the season, he set a goal to stay healthy for the entire year, but an elbow injury shut him down for two weeks, changing the course of his development.

Gaither started 11 of his 16 appearances in 2022. In college, he thrived as a starter early on at Dallas Baptist, earning a spot in the weekend rotation during his freshman season, but Tommy John surgery and the COVID-19 pandemic knocked him off track. In the beginning and end of his collegiate career, Gaither found success in the bullpen.

And in order to keep Gaither healthy for a full season, the Astros’ focus shifted to those roots.

“I’ve just done both my whole career,” Gaither said. “I’ve been really comfortable not having a structured schedule. … It wasn’t as drastic an adjustment as most people think. I think my body’s built for the bullpen just with my size and how I bounce back.”

Once he returned to game action May 24, Gaither put health concerns in his rearview mirror. The righty made 30 relief appearances for Double-A Corpus Christi, spending the rest of the year on the active roster. He posted a 3.51 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 33.1 innings.

“I think that’s where, in my head, I felt like I did belong based on performance,” Gaither said about being assigned to Corpus Christi. “I’ve played, in a way, to where I have put some value in my name.”

Gaither, who went undrafted after five seasons at Dallas Baptist, signed with the Astros in 2021, joining an organization that has recently found success in post-draft signees.

“Being a free agent, you always wonder, ‘Will I be treated the same as other guys?’” Gaither said. “But the Astros do a great job where it is truly based on performance. I think that’s one of the reasons as to why you see sustained success in the big leagues from us because it’s about development, not about how much money was given to somebody.”

Houston Astros' Ray Gaither

Ray Gaither | Credit: Ben Zaragosa

Gaither’s last 12 appearances defined a resurgent second half. He held opposing teams scoreless for 13.1 innings, striking out 14 batters. The thorn in his stat line fell in the walk category as he issued eight free passes in that span and 24 on the year for the Hooks.

“He’s always had the big stuff, and now, he’s got to learn how to use it,” said Astros scout Jim Stevenson who signed Gaither. “The big things are if he just trusts his stuff, trusts himself and competes.”

Struggling to stay ahead in counts, Gaither hit a stretch where the zone left him. Walks didn’t disappear in those 12 scoreless appearances, but quality pitches stacked up, even the ones ruled balls.

“It was just getting back to my quality of rep over the plate,” Gaither said. “Those first two pitches of every at-bat, for me, are my biggest pitches. If I get to two strikes fast, the at-bat is over, so those are definitely my emphases going into next year.”

Gaither developed a 90-93 mph cutter, a pitch player development put more focus on in the last three years. The 6-foot-4, 224-pound reliever believes this addition in combination with his high velocity fastball and multiple offspeed pitches play well out of the bullpen and so does Stevenson, who scouted Gaither since his high school days.

“He has everything there. He just needs to bring it all together,” Stevenson said. “Ray needs to graduate towards where that good (outing) he has carries over and the next one carries to the next one. That confidence starts to build, and then you just take the ball with a different mindset.”

Being intentional in catch plays and finding stability in a relief schedule, Gaither took a strong finish to his Double-A season to the Arizona Fall League. The Astros wanted Gaither to get more innings under his belt and continue to attack the zone early in counts.

Gaither ended the season at a strong level physically. He wanted to keep rolling, and he got that opportunity Wednesday in his AFL debut. The righty walked a batter but record two outs in relief to close a scoreless inning, beginning a stretch of play that could springboard him into a strong spring training.

“Last year, I wished I had an extra month and a half because I came back so late,” Gaither said. “This offseason, I’m going to prepare my body in a way to where I’m still going to try to make gains, obviously, but not to the point where I come into spring training, when we increase the frequency and whatnot, that I push it over that edge.”

Gaither returned to the mound Monday for his second appearance in the AFL. He got a clean inning to play with but pitched himself into an early jam with back-to-back walks. He followed it up with 10 pitches to strikeout a pair of hitters, attacking the zone with eight strikes. He kept his scoreless ways alive with a flyout to close his first full inning.

Be sure to follow on X, @AstrosFuture, follow on on Instagram, @AstrosFuture and like on Facebook, facebook.com/AstrosFuture.

You May Also Like

Astros

As we inch closer to the 2024 season, I am going to give top three prospects at each position. This will be based on...

Astros

The 2024 season is finally here. While the Astros may not have the system they once had back 10 years ago, the system is...

Astros

Every year I try to predict a breakout prospect. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But one thing we have seen is almost every...

Astros

As we inch closer to the 2024 season, I am going to give top three prospects at each position. This will be based on...

Astros

As we inch closer to the 2024 season, I am going to give top three prospects at each position. This will be based on...

Astros

Forrest Whitley has seen his share of ups and downs over the years. The Houston Astros added him to the 40-man roster in November...

Astros

According to a report from Ari Alexander of KPRC in Houston, the Astros are calling up one of their top prospects, Joey Loperfido. Loperfido...

Astros

The Astros have developed pitching like no other team in baseball. Just a look at their rotation right now and you can see the...

Advertisement https://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/js/adsbygoogle.js?client=ca-pub-9802778140493167