SAN DIEGO -- Rockies right-hander Jon Gray is not going to be the same guy every time he takes the mound.Having succeeded in the past by mixing in a somewhat new curveball, and using his slider when he really felt good, Gray mostly utilized his fastball -- especially early --
SAN DIEGO -- Rockies right-hander Jon Gray is not going to be the same guy every time he takes the mound.
Having succeeded in the past by mixing in a somewhat new curveball, and using his slider when he really felt good, Gray mostly utilized his fastball -- especially early -- while pitching seven scoreless innings in the Rockies' 5-2 victory over the Padres at Petco Park on Wednesday night.
Gray needed just 11 pitches, all but one of them four-seam fastballs, in the first inning. The first time through the Padres' order, all but six of his 35 pitches were four-seamers. He decided a few effective sliders were better than always going to them for put-away pitches. Gray held the Padres to four hits, struck out seven and issued no walks, while throwing 93 pitches.
The Rockies are assured at least a split of the four-game set. They can notch a series win and finish their season-opening seven-game road trip with a winning record if they win Thursday afternoon's series finale.
Gray (1-1), whose torrid second half in 2017 helped the Rockies earn the second National League Wild Card spot, needed to be different from how he pitched Opening Day, when he gave up three runs in the first inning at Arizona and, even though he gave up no further scoring, lasted just four innings.
"We were going right at people, pitching in really well," Gray said. "Establishing the fastball early really helped everything else."
Rockies catcher Tony Wolters noted, "His plans are unbelievable."
Charlie Blackmon celebrated his new six-year contract with two singles and two runs in the first two innings -- when the Rockies did all their scoring. The early offense also included an RBI double from Nolan Arenado, a two-run double from Trevor Story and a two-run single by Ian Desmond. All the damage came against Padres starter Clayton Richard (0-1), who rebounded to pitch five innings and strike out six.
Rockies manager Bud Black liked the way Gray refused to let the Padres grab momentum after Colorado grabbed the early lead.
"He stayed pretty poised throughout the game in his delivery," Black said. "The fastball had life, good slider. I liked the fact that the curveball came into play as the game went on. The first 25 pitches or so, we didn't see the curveball. Then, it started showing up, and he needs that. We talk a lot about the velocity variance, and that was big for him."
After the struggles in the opener, Gray said he still expected a big season. From his positive bullpen sessions through the matchup with the Padres, there was no hangover.
"It's something that's going to keep rolling if I take the positives from each one of these," Gray said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
What's the story?: With two men in scoring position in the first, Rockies shortstop Story came to the plate with Carlos Gonzalez on deck. The lefty Richard opted not to pitch around the right-handed-hitting Story. Instead, Richard hung a first-pitch slider to Story who popped a two-run double into the left-field corner, giving the Rockies a 3-0 lead.
Stranded in the sixth: The Padres put two men on base in the bottom of the sixth, the first time they did so. Facing the middle of the Padres' order, Gray responded nicely. He struck out Eric Hosmer with a 90-mph slider, then got Christian Villanueva -- who homered three times on Tuesday night -- to pop up to the catcher.
GRAY, WOLTERS ESTABLISHING CONNECTION
In his last two Spring Training starts, Gray threw 9 1/3 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts with Wolters catching. In fact, Wolters caught all but one of Gray's Cactus League appearances. Starting catcher Chris Iannetta caught Gray on Opening Day, as expected. But those final spring starts and the work Wednesday night suggest that a combo could be in the making, even though Black has never been big on set pairings.
"We were on the same page from the get-go -- we talked about this for a couple of days," Gray said.
Leading up to Wednesday, Wolters noted that the opener didn't affect Gray's demeanor or confidence.
"He's more in the moment," Wolters said. "He's keeping his cool. He's being pitch-to-pitch. He's not thinking too far ahead. He's not thinking what happened in the past.
"Each start, he's building from it. His mechanics are getting so much better, getting to the point where he doesn't have to think about it."
Rockies lefty Tyler Anderson is out to move past a difficult opener. He threw 71 pitches, while lasting just 2 1/3 innings, in a loss at Arizona, and his frequent pickoff attempts to first base hurt his pace. But he's 1-1 with a 2.00 career ERA vs. the Padres, who he faces Thursday at 1:40 p.m. MT.
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Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page.