Gray explains mental hurdles pitching at Coors

September 5th, 2018
Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jon Gray works against a San Diego Padres batter during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)Gregory Bull/AP

DENVER -- After his last home start -- a 6-2 win over the Padres on Aug. 22 -- Rockies right-hander  said there is some frustration adapting to pitching in Coors Field when he comes off a road trip. He pitched well, so he wasn't making excuses, just giving an honest assessment of the process he goes through to be as effective at home as he is on the road.

"I mainly feel it with my curveball, just making the adjustment with the elevation," Gray said, elaborating on the idea before Wednesday's series finale with the Giants. "That's the toughest part of pitching for the Rockies, really. If we pitched all our games at elevation, we're going to have our stuff more times than not. If you're moving from a different arsenal to a different arsenal, it's tough to make that switch."

Gray is handling the challenge fairly well this season, posting a better ERA at home (4.56) than on the road (4.81). The Rockies have a 4.94 ERA at Coors Field while boasting a 4.16 mark on the road.

"I feel like we're doing a great job right now making the adjustments," Gray said, noting the unprecedented success of the Rockies starting rotation. "On my curveball, I notice the difference. I usually don't throw it well when I come back here until the second day, when I can really get a feel for it. It's just a little different. Even on the fastball. Mine stays straight here. On the road it can move. It can sink, it can run."

There isn't a lot he's found to replicate that same movement on his fastball at home, but recognizing the phenomenon helps to compensate for the changes.

"You just have to be aware of it mentally, when you're pitching to know that I've got to be a little more careful here," Gray said of his fastball.

With the curve, however, a series of adjustments -- from shifting where his eyes focus to adjusting the mechanics of his delivery -- can get his curve to react the way he likes it to.

"I like to take a more aggressive approach with my curveball here than I do on the road," Gray said. "I can kind of flip it on the road a little bit and throw strikes with it. I can't really do that here. I throw more a power curve, where it starts down and stays down. If it pops up, it's probably not going to come back down here."

Gray is right about the difference in his effectiveness on the first day of a homestand as compared to the second day and beyond. In his three home starts on the first day of a homestand, he's posted a 5.00 ERA (10 earned runs in 18 innings). In the nine starts he's made from the second day of a homestand on, he has a 4.42 ERA (26 earned runs in 53 innings).

"I hope I get to that point where I can make the adjustment on Day 1," Gray said. "I'm getting there, but I'm starting to feel more confident about it."

Base-path burglary

With 24 games left in the season, the Rockies have already stolen more bases in 2018 than in either of the past two seasons. They entered Wednesday's series finale with 87 steals (11 more than their collective opponents), eclipsing the full season totals from '16 (66) and '17 (59). It's the product of an aggressive approach instilled in the players by manager Bud Black and coaches Stu Coles, Tony Diaz, and Ron Gideon.

"There are times where I'll put the steal on, where I want them to go on that pitch, and there are times when they know that they have the green light," Black said of his team's success on the base paths. "It's rare that I put the stop sign on, because I want us to be aggressive. I want our guys always pushing the envelope. That's how you become better baserunners, and that's how you apply pressure on the defense. Especially this time of the year, when you're the attacker, when you're motivated to put pressure on the opposition. At this time of year, that's awesome."