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Gray K's 7 in key Minor League tuneup

Working through left big toe injury, righty is lined up for Rockies' opener
March 29, 2017

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Jon Gray's six innings in a Minor League game Wednesday had less to do with his pitching than the other stuff. Handling all of it should put Gray in position to start the season opener Monday at Milwaukee.Gray struck out seven -- with no walks

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Jon Gray's six innings in a Minor League game Wednesday had less to do with his pitching than the other stuff. Handling all of it should put Gray in position to start the season opener Monday at Milwaukee.
Gray struck out seven -- with no walks -- and gave up four runs on five hits in six innings. More importantly, since he's dealing with a left big toe injury, he made four sprints to first base on ground balls and dashed from the mound to cover the plate when he threw a wild pitch with a runner at third.
Manager Bud Black has not officially announced Gray for the opener, although the right-hander lines up to face Brewers righty Junior Guerra at Miller Park on Monday at 12:10 p.m. MT. But if there are no issues overnight, it's possible Black will announce Gray and the entire starting rotation Thursday.
Gray said after his 88-pitch (59 strikes) outing that he was "being very careful" with the toe, which flared up two Cactus League starts ago and led to Colorado removing him after 2 2/3 innings. But Gray tested it enough to know, "If I had to run and do something, I could."

Gray gave up a second-inning two-run homer to catcher Dom Nunez, the Rockies' No. 12 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, as well as a few other hard-hit balls. But the strikeouts were significant. Gray's best pitch -- his slider -- has taken most of the spring to hone, but as the outing progressed, he found what looks to be regular-season form.
"Today was the first time in a while I really felt like I've thrown a really good, consistent slider," Gray said. "I started feeling that later in the game. It was from the third, fourth inning on, I was rolling, feeling really good. The curveball was there for a strikeout pitch, slider and fastball [too]. So it was a good day."
Gray said he wasn't particularly worried about the toe, but he worked up some butterflies to reach the intensity of a regular-season game -- not easy when most people in attendance are Colorado Minor Leaguers and club officials, although the baseball team from Heritage High School in Littleton, Colo., was in attendance.
"I try to make it as game-like as possible -- kind of visualize I'm on the mound in a big-league stadium," Gray said.
Unless something unforeseen happens, Gray, 25, will make his first Major League Opening Day start. The No. 3 overall Draft pick in 2013 out of the University of Oklahoma, Gray set a Rockies rookie record last season with 185 strikeouts, while going 10-10 with a 4.61 ERA in 29 starts.
"I'm ready," Gray said. "I've been thinking about it for a long time. Us guys have been talking about it for a long time. We're going to get the ball rolling on what we believe is going to be a really good season. We're really confident in each other, and we know what to expect from each other."
Catcher Tony Wolters, who worked the game with Gray, said, "Jon's at the point now that his timing is there, his pitches are there, his mentality is there. We're ready to rock and roll."

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