“I felt I did a really good job staying on top of my stuff, understanding what my pitches needed to do and keeping a brace on it,” Gray said. “There’s still some work that needs to be done, but I feel I’m right where I need to be.”
After winning their first two 2019 games, the Rockies left with a split -- just their second non-losing series since Marlins Park opened in ‘12. But the series ended with injuries to key players. First baseman Daniel Murphy suffered a possible fracture to his left index finger in Thursday night’s victory, and Gray limped off with a 3-0 count to Marlins pitcher Sandy Alcantara -- who held the Rockies to four hits in eight innings.
“It was frustrating,” said Gray, who doesn’t expect problems going forward. “The pitcher is up. All I’ve got to do is get him out and I go seven. First pitch to him, I get a cramp in my calf. I thought nothing of it and tried to throw another pitch and felt the same thing.”
Before the injury, Gray took major strides toward his goal of keeping emotions in check and his work consistent, both of which he needed after a strange 2018.
Gray made two key mistakes -- a leadoff walk of Brian Anderson that eventually led to a two-run fourth, and a home run on a changeup to JT Riddle to open the seventh. And there was nothing Gray could do about Alcantara’s electric performance that featured 12 groundball outs.
Still, Gray maintained a 95.8 mph average on his four-seam fastball, but used effective sliders and curves for put-away pitches lower in the zone.
The fourth-inning walk to Anderson was ill-advised. But after last year, when negative body language and mound presence cropped up when things went wrong, Gray pitched reasonably well, even in that inning.
Neil Walker’s single took a hard hop over the glove of sliding second baseman Ryan McMahon on a play that reminded many Rockies fans that replacing three-time Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner DJ LeMahieu (now with the Yankees) isn’t easy. On the play, right fielder Charlie Blackmon -- who has an accurate arm but lacks the power of Carlos Gonzalez (now with the Indians) hit the cutoff man rather than try to erase Anderson at third, and kept the double play in order.
Gray coaxed a bouncer from Starlin Castro, but didn’t have a shot at a double play. Jorge Alfaro followed with a solid double, but Gray rebounded and didn’t give up another run until the Riddle homer.
“When adversity happened, I felt like we did something ourselves to get out of it,” Gray said. “That’s something I want to see. I just want to see it a little bit sooner.”
The walk to Anderson was Gray’s only, and he held the Marlins to five hits.
“His stuff was good -- he mixed well, he had a good slider for the strikeout, a couple good curveballs, elevated the fastball,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “If you really break it down, the leadoff walk came back to haunt him.
“Walker hit a smash right to ‘Mac,’ and it was first and third, then the tapper and then one big hit. In a well-pitched game, one big hit can change dramatically the course of a game.”
The Marlins’ Walker said, “He had four pitches working today. Luckily we were able to throw some at-bats together in the fourth inning, and shoot a couple across and get a late run there by JT. You're going to have days like that.”
But Gray’s battle was fruitless because Alcantara, who came from the Cardinals for outfielder Marcell Ozuna, dominated in his seventh career start. After Tony Wolters opened the second with a bloop double, the Rockies managed just one hit and hit just two balls to outfielders against Alcantara, who delivered a diverse brew of pitches.
"From my perspective, he has a really good two-seam,” Wolters said. “It rides, it doesn't sink, just has that run effect. It looks middle, like it's going to be straight, and just takes off. And his changeup is pretty good. I saw that my third at-bat, a really good changeup. Then he started featuring his slider, and my last at-bat he started back-dooring the curveball.”
After Wolters’ double and Gray’s bunt that moved him to third, Alcantara coaxed a foul pop from Charlie Blackmon and a hard bouncer from David Dahl that forced Walker to make a juggling play at first base before flipping to the covering Alcantara.
Blackmon doubled and Dahl walked to open the ninth against Marlins lefty Wei-Yen Chen. But Sergio Romo forced a fly ball from Nolan Arenado, whose 12-game regular-season hit streak ended (as did a 4-for-18 series that saw him not rewarded for hard-hit balls), fanned Trevor Story and coaxed an infield fly from Ryan McMahon.
Right-handed-hitting infielder Pat Valaika, who lost out to Mark Reynolds in spring competition for a bench spot, is being recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque to replace first baseman Daniel Murphy (left index finger injury), Black said after the game.
Additionally, the Rockies outrighted right-handed pitcher Rayan Gonzalez to Double-A Hartford. Gonzalez did not pitch in 2017 because of Tommy John right elbow surgery. He was optioned to Minor League camp during Spring Training. He made 22 Minor League appearances last season.
Right-hander Chad Bettis went 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in Spring Training. But more importantly, there was no sign of the recurring blisters that scuttled his 2018. He will face the Rays on Monday at 5:10 p.m. MDT.