Ray of light shines on determination

Ray of light shines on determination

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Kenny Ray's career appeared at a dead end in 2005. He was 30 years old and began the season in the Canadian American League, his third independent league since 2002.

Ray had pitched a total of 11 1/3 innings in the Majors, and that was back in 1999 with the Royals, who drafted him in the 18th round in 1993 out of Roswell (Ga.) High School.

The Royals traded him to the Giants for Jerry Spradlin before the 2000 season.

"It kind of caught me off guard," Ray said.

He had two shoulder surgeries and missed the 2001 season. He was released by the Giants, Brewers and White Sox within a three-year period and decided that 2005 would be his last season.

"The struggles over the last three years kind of took its toll," Ray said. "I already talked with my wife [Brandi] and I promised her that if nothing happened in '05, that I'd call it quits."

The story, however, has a happy ending.

"It does," Ray said. "Everything worked out perfect."

After starting 2-0 with a 2.75 ERA with North Shore in an independent league, the Braves signed him to a Triple-A contract in 2005. In 2006, he was back in the Majors after a six-year hiatus. He went 1-1 with a 4.52 ERA in 69 relief appearances with Atlanta.

"I was an underdog in '06. I wasn't even in big-league camp, didn't have a Major League invite," Ray said. "I just happened to go up and pitch in a couple of Spring Training games and do well. I got to showcase my velocity. I think it was against the Mets that kind of put me on the map. They got me in early enough, so I got to face some of the normal starters."

Three games into the season, the Braves had an injury to a pitcher and Ray was summoned from Triple-A Richmond to join the team in San Francisco. He struck out Barry Bonds on four pitches on April 6 in his Braves debut. He posted 14 consecutive scoreless innings from April 21-May 17 and logged his first career save on May 26 against the Cubs.

When the Braves put Ray on waivers after the season to clear a roster spot, the Royals immediately claimed him on Oct. 12.

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"I took the low road back," Ray said. "It's been a steady uphill climb, but it has been well worth it. I went from prospect to suspect. I talked to George Brett when I first arrived and he asked, 'What happened to you? I lost track of you.' I couldn't even explain it myself. I lost track of myself for a couple of years."

Ray, who is competing for a bullpen spot, said he is a different pitcher than he was in his first time with the Royals.

"Back in '99, I had a lot of control issues," Ray said. "I was blessed with a good arm, but I had no real idea. I always thought I could throw it by anybody. I found out the hard way that I couldn't. The command wasn't what it needed to be to pitch at this level. After two surgeries, I had to learn how to pitch all over again.

"Now it is about location first. If you're blessed with a good arm, it is not going to do you a whole lot of good unless you have good command. In '99, I didn't even have a changeup. I developed a changeup on my own. That has kind of been the pitch for me to redefine my career over the last three years."

Alan Eskew is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.