Gray K's 12, but Rangers can't get over .500

Early homers by Huff, Lowe aren't enough as Rays force extras with late rally

June 2nd, 2022

ARLINGTON -- Jon Gray has said for weeks that he was still searching for that “one really good outing” this season.

The Rangers right-hander hasn’t pitched terribly by any means, but a 5.56 ERA over seven starts was not what anybody had in mind for the pitcher, who signed a four-year, $56 million deal in the offseason.

He finally got it, but not in the way anyone expected, as Gray tossed seven innings of one-run ball in Texas’ eventual 4-3 loss in 11 innings to Tampa Bay on Wednesday night at Globe Life Field.

Gray, who took a no-decision, struck out a season-high 12 batters. But despite solo homers from Sam Huff and Nathaniel Lowe that put the Rangers up early, the club failed to get over .500 for the first time this season as Tampa Bay came charging back to force extra frames.

Manager Chris Woodward said he felt like the game slipped away from the Rangers when it was just in reach.

“We had a lot of chances in that game,” Woodward said. “Obviously, Jon Gray was fantastic, but obviously, we had a lot of opportunities throughout the game. We just couldn't come up with a good at-bat. The good thing is that when we keep putting ourselves in these situations, we're going to learn. We can't get caught up in the moment.”

The Rangers outhit the Rays, 10-6, but collectively went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left 14 runners on base.

“I felt like we let things slip a little bit,” Woodward added. “Especially late in the game when we had runners on in the seventh, eighth and ninth, and again in the 10th and 11th. We had chances to tie the game or win the game.

“It just felt like we let that moment get to us a little bit. We got to learn from it. We're going to keep playing close games. So we're going to have to find ways to come through in those situations.”

Gray said he felt the best he has all season, putting up the second-highest strikeout total of his career and the most since he struck out the same amount on June 22, 2018, against Miami, when he was with the Rockies. Gray had a 16-strikeout game in '16 with Colorado.

The dozen K’s were the most by a Texas pitcher since Lance Lynn logged that many on Sept. 22, 2019, at Oakland and the most by a Ranger since moving to Globe Life Field in 2020.

Gray had been wearing a brace on his left knee since a low-grade sprain landed him on the injured list in late April. He noted that the brace slowed him down a lot more than he expected and he just feels freer on the mound without it.

Rangers pitching coach Brendan Sagara described Gray’s last bullpen without the brace as “electric,” so after that, the staff knew he could go without it for the foreseeable future.

“I don't think any of our pitching coaches was shocked by what they saw today,” Woodward said. “They kind of felt like he was due for a good one. He felt great about it. He was getting down the mound, he has four plus pitches. You could tell by the reactions of some of those hitters. That’s great. He’s our No. 1.”

Gray narrowly missed out on seven scoreless innings -- the lone run he allowed coming on a solo homer by Randy Arozarena in the seventh -- but it was the most complete Gray has looked since Opening Day, when he left the game early and landed on the injured list with a blister.

A single from Vidal Bruján in the third inning ended a streak of 30 consecutive batters retired by Rangers pitchers, following seven perfect innings by Martín Pérez and a duo of relievers in Tuesday night’s game.

Pérez and Gray both went seven-plus innings and allowed one or no runs each in their starts. It’s the first time a Rangers pitching duo has done so on back-to-back days since Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles on June 26-27 of last season.

“The quality of play it’s just fun to watch,” Gray said. “And it's really cool to be a part of. We are playing better baseball. I don't think we're at our peak yet. I think we're just starting to get going, but it's still a good thing to see. We're playing close ballgames. We're beating some good teams. We’re heading in the right direction.”