Gray continues solid spring in bounceback bid

Righty: 'I knew there was a problem, I knew the problem had to be fixed'

March 6th, 2019

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander  wasn’t being falsely modest when he called his pitch action during a five-strikeout, four-inning start in Wednesday’s 6-5 loss to the Angels “my B-minus, C-plus stuff.”

The key was he not only knew how far he was from optimal, but he knew the fixes he needed to make.

Balls came off the bat hard in the first inning. singled, second baseman had to backhand a hard one-hopper to start a double play, and third baseman had to dive right for a patented backhand snatch of 's liner.

Then Gray fanned five of the next six -- two came on diving sliders, one on a slow curve and two more came when the batter looked offspeed and Gray uncorked a fastball. Gray, who spent part of his offseason at the Driveline Baseball performance center in the Seattle area getting information on his pitches, said he was crossfiring on his fastball and slider at first, but made the adjustments.

“The more I was aware of it, the more I was able to fix it,” Gray said.

Following his strong outing on Wednesday, Gray now has 10 strikeouts while allowing just two hits, one walk and one run over nine spring innings.

"He's doing fine," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "We're trying to get him in a good spot with his delivery, which he's doing -- and he's taking that out on the mound and producing what he's been doing in his side work."

Gray, 27, was drafted third overall in 2013 out of the University of Oklahoma but was a late bloomer who “didn’t know much about baseball in high school, and even in college -- when I got to college, that’s when I really started to learn the game.”

He went 10-4 with a 3.67 ERA while helping the Rockies to the postseason in 2017. Last year, he was an inconsistent 12-9 with a 5.12 ERA and didn’t make the postseason roster. Gray figured he needed more schooling on how to correct himself when his pitches didn’t do what he wanted.

“I knew there was a problem, I knew the problem had to be fixed -- I just didn’t know what it was,” Gray said. “’That’s what inspired me to go to Driveline. 'I’m going to throw all my pitches for you guys. Tell me what you see.’”

Gray said advancing in baseball has even sparked an interest in the game's history. It’s not unusual for an athlete to not know their sport’s history -- they have the talent to be playing, while others’ talents leave them to see the game more academically. But Gray now understands that he’s not just walking his career path but following in the footsteps of some greats.

One he is fascinated by, in particular.

“Roger Clemens,” Gray said. “Power. ‘I’m gonna throw the fastball and I’m going to throw something off of it, so get ready to guess.' I remember seeing his 20-strikeout game and a few other highlight videos.”

Arenado appreciation society

Gray described what it’s like to go from disappointment to elation when Arenado steals a hit behind him.

“That was awesome,” Gray said. “Whenever you first hear a sound like that, it’s, ‘Oh, great. A guy just got a hit.' But not with him. I heard the snap of the glove, instead. It was nice.”

Tinoco to the ‘pen

Black confirmed something that has been in the works since the end of last season -- converting righty prospect Jesus Tinoco to a reliever.

Tinoco, Colorado's No. 20-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline, entered his Tuesday outing against the Brewers with runners at first and third and two down in the third. He threw six straight fastballs in the 94-96 mph range -- all with sink -- and forced a weak grounder to escape the jam.

The 23-year-old prospect received an invite to big league camp last year and was added to the Major League roster this winter. He led Double-A Hartford with 141 innings pitched last season and finished second in the Eastern League with 132 strikeouts in 26 games, all starts. But his fastball velocity and action increased as a reliever during Arizona Fall League play.

“There’s a little bit of upside there with his stuff and the resiliency of the arm,” Black said.

Quick hits

• Right-handed hitting , a competitor for playing time at second base, made his first start in center field on Wednesday after playing one Cactus League inning in center previously. Hampson’s speed and versatility could allow the Rockies to carry just four outfielders when the regular season starts.

• Righty DJ Johnson, a September 2018 call-up who earned a spot in the postseason last year, pitched his fourth scoreless spring inning. He has held opponents to one hit.

"I like his mix of pitches," Black said. "Under control with his stuff, fastball good location, landing the curveball for strikes."

• An intriguing figure is non-roster lefty Ben Bowden, a 2016 second-round pick out of Vanderbilt who fanned three and walked one. Bowden, in his first Major League camp, missed 2017 with a back injury and went a combined 7-2 with nine saves at Class A levels Asheville and Lancaster last year.

"There's some strength to his stuff," Black said. "He's getting closer to what we want to see."

Up next

Righty , looking to force his way into the rotation, will start against the Cubs and lefty Jon Lester on Thursday at Sloan Park.