DENVER -- Jon Gray believes he and his fellow Rockies starters are quietly adding fuel to a winning streak that grew to seven games with Saturday night’s 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays.
Pitching through a “hot spot” on his right middle finger that also forced him from his previous start early, Gray figured he would “go until it didn’t.” Given a 3-0 lead in the first inning on Nolan Arenado’s RBI single and Daniel Murphy’s two-run double, Gray limited the Jays to two hits and three walks while striking out seven before the problem flared up after 6 2/3 innings. The Rockies improved to 8-1 on their longest homestand of the season, which concludes Sunday afternoon against Toronto.
But forget the “hot spot” -- which can grow into a time-costing blister if not managed properly. Gray hopes his work and that of his fellow rotation mates -- despite being without a couple of the starters who have helped the team to the postseason in each of the past two seasons -- are at the beginning of their own hot streak.
Lefty Tyler Anderson left the rotation after five starts with a knee injury that could cost him the remainder of the season. On Friday, lefty Kyle Freeland, the Opening Day starter and the fourth-place finisher in National League Cy Young Award voting last season, was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque.
But Gray’s efficiency on Saturday was impressive, as he had five innings of 11 or fewer pitches. Gray delivered his performance after German Marquez went seven and fanned seven in Friday’s 13-6 victory over the Blue Jays.
“I’ve been seeing it for awhile,” Gray said. “But it’s good that we’re playing the way we are right now, when things aren’t necessarily clicking [for the rotation]. We’re finding ways to take a lot of games out of a series.”
“They’re doing what we expect them to do,” Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster said. “This is a group of young guys that have grown up together.”
Behind Marquez and Gray are righties Antonio Senzatela, who starts Sunday’s game, and Jeff Hoffman, neither of whom have spent a full year in the Majors. Senzatela is coming off a solid last start -- two runs, despite nine hits, in six innings against the D-backs -- while Hoffman has had two starts since his recall from Triple-A Albuquerque and showed improvements in his previous outing.
So the rotation needs another starter -- the Rockies haven’t announced that plan -- and will eventually need Freeland. But Gray believes it will come together.
“I really know that about this year,” Gray said. “I know Kyle, the kind of guy he is. He’s going to do everything he can to get back. He’s going to find himself. I’m not worried about that at all. But the rest of us, at a time like this, we do have to pick it up a little bit and really take a lot of pride in our job and what we can do for our team.”
The Rockies ended Saturday night quite proud of Gray, who endured an option to Albuquerque last season and appears to be back to the staff leader he was in 2016 and ‘17.
Gray forced nine groundouts and allowed just one walk before the seventh inning, when he walked his final two batters as the finger worsened. Reliever Jairo Diaz forced a Jonathan Davis groundout to keep Gray’s night scoreless.
“The delivery was repeated, the arm slot, the release point, the finish, everything was just consistent all night long,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “He threw the ball to both sides of the plate. He choked off some swings, and that’s where you saw some ground balls to the left side. The slider produced some grounders.”
Scott Oberg was called upon to register his second save of the season after Carlos Estevez allowed two runs in the ninth inning.
In his last three outings, Gray has a 2.55 ERA with 16 strikeouts and six walks as he tries to lead a solid run of starts from the rotation that needs to fight though a time that tests their depth.
“We don’t necessarily have a million options right now, but every time we take the ball, we need to take it with conviction,” Gray said.