Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News arrow-downArrow Down icon Arrow Up icon

Gray mows 'em down early, then long ball hurts

@harding_at_mlb
May 11, 2019

DENVER -- Rockies right-hander Jon Gray grades himself tough. As examples, he gave himself “F’s all across the board,” and not once in seven starts before Saturday night did he say he had anything close to a complete package of pitches. So it’s noteworthy that, although disappointed after a no-decision

DENVER -- Rockies right-hander Jon Gray grades himself tough. As examples, he gave himself “F’s all across the board,” and not once in seven starts before Saturday night did he say he had anything close to a complete package of pitches.

So it’s noteworthy that, although disappointed after a no-decision and a 4-3 loss to the Padres at Coors Field, Gray could walk away with concrete regard for the pluses he achieved in his six-plus innings.

Box score

Gray was hurt by two pitches -- Hunter Renfroe went deep in the fourth for the game’s first run, and Wil Myers led off the seventh with his ninth homer in 31 games at Coors. But Gray fanned seven of the first 11 batters he faced. And although he managed just one more strikeout, he either avoided trouble or pitched through it.

Gray spotted his fastball, even though his velocity was a tick lower than normal. His slider was effective, and the curve -- just a couple years ago a pitch he used to steal a strike -- was a true weapon.

Gray started on Opening Day in 2017 and 2018. But by the end of last season, he wasn’t pitching well enough to be on the postseason roster. On Saturday, however, he demonstrated the ability to account for himself well in games with little margin for error, and that could take him and the team a long way.

“It’s night and day from last year,” Gray said. “Because I actually feel like myself. I feel like I have something to go to. Last year, I didn’t have it.”

The Rockies’ offense struggled against a starter with a funky delivery -- lefty Joey Lucchesi, who held them to one run and three hits in 5 1/3 innings. Otherwise, Gray’s effort might have been good enough to win.

He had to settle for it to be good enough to avoid being saddled with a loss, thanks to Charlie Blackmon’s eighth-inning leadoff homer off Craig Stammen to tie the game, 3-3, before Wade Davis gave up a run while not having good command in the ninth.

The Myers homer and an Austin Hedges single to open the seventh led manager Bud Black to remove Gray, with the Padres beginning to stack left-handed hitters. After Gray ended the Rockies’ string of 13 games without a quality start (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs), Black sounded like a manager welcoming Gray back to his expected place as a dependable starter.

“Jon’s throwing the ball well,” Black said. “He’s confident in what he’s doing. He threw pitches in the seventh inning. If our starting rotation throws pitches in the seventh inning, they’re doing a pretty good job.”

The Rockies (18-21) have surged since beginning the season 3-12, but Saturday’s loss means they will end their eight-game homestand Sunday with no chance to bring the season record to .500. But they expect to become a contender, and Gray is pitching as if he aims to be a big part of the run.

Gray increased his strikeout total to 51 in 48 2/3 innings, and he walked just one to leave that number at 19. The nine home runs yielded signal a need for improvement, but by attacking the strike zone and limiting walks, there is less chance of being hurt by the homers.

Gray’s attacking style worked for him when there was traffic. Renfroe doubled to open the third but advanced no further. Gray forced a Greg Garcia lineout to end the fifth with a runner at second. In the sixth, Manny Machado’s one-out single and Gray’s wild pitch set up Eric Hosmer’s ground-ball RBI single, but Gray kept the score right there.

Even with the mistakes that sailed over the fence -- Statcast had Renfroe’s homer at an estimated 470 feet and Myers’ projected at 468 -- Gray craves games with little margin for error.

“It’s just frustrating when you come out on the other end of it; it stinks,” Gray said. “Our guys played great defense, saved a bunch of hits, a few runs. We had some at-bats late in the game that were really good. It’s disappointing that way.”

Two takeaways
Davis scattershot:
Davis yielded Myers’ one-out, ninth-inning single, then walked two straight -- including a four-pitch pass to Padres catching prospect Austin Allen, making his Major League debut -- before Garcia’s go-ahead fielder’s choice grounder.

Davis has had just one 1-2-3 inning this season. The good part is he has generally made pitches when necessary. After the fielder’s choice, when second baseman Garrett Hampson made an against-the-odds throw home rather than going to first base, Davis ended the inning by working a Manuel Margot double-play grounder. But he knows he has work to do.

“I probably would have been fine without the walks, but the walks you definitely can’t have,” said Davis, who said his front side is flying open, which costs him command. “The walks are something we’re going to have to stop doing.”

Estevez solid: After Mike Dunn replaced Gray in the seventh and fanned Alex Dickerson and extracted a fly ball from Garcia, righty Carlos Estévez held the Padres for 1 1/3 innings with three strikeouts. He entered with a two-run deficit and didn’t allow further damage to give the Rockies a chance at a comeback.

Black said the test for Estevez is “continued performance over the long haul,” but if his solid work continues he’ll earn even greater trust.

“If feels good to be pitching in those games -- even though you’re on the team, you feel like you’re working more to get the team to win,” Estevez said.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.