SAN DIEGO -- Rockies right-hander Jon Gray says his better performances have rhythm, “like a dance.” He had the beat Tuesday night at Petco Park in an 8-2 win.
Throw a dominating pitch -- usually fastball, which he spotted well, or breaking pitches that were effective, though not as sharp. Take a couple steps behind the mound for catcher Tony Wolters’ sign. Step to the rubber, repeat. Gray rocked that rhythm for seven innings while limiting the Padres to three hits and striking out five in the Rockies’ third straight victory.
“When things are going good, we’re getting back up there, but when things happen not so good, I feel like we’re taking a step back, breathing and getting back to square one,” said Gray, who controlled the chess board most of Tuesday.
Gray’s performance -- supported by Nolan Arenado's third home run in as many games, and Garrett Hampson's first Major League homer -- seemed a long time coming, somewhat late arriving. After spending last year swinging from high moments to awful ones, Gray had been good more often than not but was 0-3, partly because the Rox were shut out in two of his starts. His last start was a 1-0 defeat at San Francisco on Thursday.
“That’s encouraging,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “A couple double plays, he made some pitches. They stressed him a little bit and Jon came out of it on the other side, and that was awesome.”
On Tuesday, he didn’t give up a hit until Wil Myers’ leadoff homer in the fifth -- significant because it meant Gray has given up homers in a National League-record 16 straight games. Even more, his rebound demonstrated that last year’s too-frequent meltdowns may be behind him.
“I knew from my [pregame] bullpen I didn’t have my best stuff, but the time in the game when things got tough, we found a way to make a really good pitch and get out,” Gray said. “That’s exactly what I want to see from myself on days like these.”
Gray entered last year considered the Rockies’ No. 1 starter. He was surpassed by Kyle Freeland and German Marquez, did a brief tuneup at Triple-A Albuquerque, and finished 12-9 with a 5.12 ERA.
But there was a stark difference between Gray’s performance in wins (1.94 ERA) and losses (10.94). Many of his losses started off looking like 1.94 games before quickly spinning into 10.94 messes. The inconsistencies kept him off the postseason roster.
After holding opponents to one run his last two outings, Gray is signaling that he could return to his previous status.
"He has moments where he's really tough,” Padres manager Andy Green said. “His command was there today. He located pretty well. We didn't string together too many really good at-bats."
After Myers homered in the fifth, the Padres’ Eric Hosmer fought off a couple two-strike foul balls and drew an eight-pitch walk -- one of three for Gray, who generally keeps base-on-ball totals low. But Gray stayed on rhythm, fanned Fernando Tatis Jr., and worked a double-play grounder from Ian Kinsler.
“It’s knowing you made a mistake, saying, ‘So what?’ and getting back at it,” Gray said. “I do not care about solo home runs at all. I’d rather give up a home run than walk guys. I do not like walking guys.”
Gray was tested when he faced Manny Machado with two on and two out the following inning, but came through by coaxing a fly ball to right field.
“When it was crunch time, we were there -- we were ready,” Gray said.
Five things to know
• The Arenado homer (on his 28th birthday) off Padres starter Nick Margevicius, after Hampson’s single, gave the Rockies their first first-inning runs this season. Colorado began the season with 17 scoreless first innings.
• As the Rockies were besting Margevicius for seven hits and five runs in just four innings, Story managed a career single-game high three steals. He became the first Rockies player to swipe three in a game since Charlie Blackmon against the Reds on May 25, 2015.
• Rockies fans won’t be hungry. It’s the first time this season the team scored at least seven runs, a threshold that triggers a deal for fast-food tacos.
• Black said before the game the Rockies’ offensive approach has improved, although there have still been too many strikeouts. The Rockies finished this one with 13, seven for Margevicius.
Thursday begins a star-studded four-game set with the Phillies at Coors Field, starting with Kyle Freeland facing Zach Eflin at 6:40 p.m. MT, free on MLB.TV. The Rockies have won three straight games, with Arenado having homered in each of them. It'll be Bryce Harper's first game at Coors in a Phils uniform.