Gray strikes out nine but draws short straw in pitchers' duel

April 11th, 2024

ARLINGTON -- wasn't particularly happy with his first two starts of the young 2024 season.

He didn’t make it out of the fourth inning in either, and entered his third start on Thursday with more walks (six) than strikeouts (five). Maybe more than anybody, Gray desperately needed an outing to get back on track.

And though he was tagged with his first loss of the season as the Rangers fell 1-0 to the A’s on Thursday at Globe Life Field, Gray did everything he could to put the club in a position to win.

The right-hander tossed five innings of one-run ball, with the lone run coming on a Seth Brown solo homer in the second inning. It was unfortunately the sixth game in his career in which he took the loss despite allowing one or fewer earned runs in five or more innings. That’s tied for the most such outings in MLB since 2019.

“I feel like we pitched really well,” Gray said. “They were better today pitching. There's definitely a lot to grow on today. I don't really want to sit and think about one mistake, but that's really what it was. It was one mistake. I feel like other than that we had a good game plan going. We were attacking. It was just one mistake today. I’ll try to flush that and think about the things that I can do to make it better.”

Despite his fastball velocity still sitting below his 2023 average of 95.7 mph, Gray isn’t worried about that being a continuing issue.

“It’s still early,” Gray said. “I don’t feel any pain. I feel really good actually. I just noticed it's a lot slower, but I can still pitch with that. Today shows that so if it ticks back up, great. If it doesn't, I'm still going to be able to pitch.”

Notably, Gray had nine strikeouts to just one walk as he kept the Rangers within striking distance all afternoon long. His nine strikeouts were the most for a Texas starter since he also struck out nine on Aug. 28, 2023, in New York against the Mets.

After shaky command over his first two starts, 61 of Gray’s 91 pitches (67.0%) went for strikes on Thursday. He had previously thrown just 83 of 151 pitches for strikes (54.9%) in his first two games.

One key to a lot of Gray’s best starts since joining the Rangers ahead of the 2022 season has been the increased slider usage. Against the A’s, the slider was his most used pitch, throwing 41 sliders compared to 35 four-seamers.

“It’s going to be more of a mix now,” Gray said. “I’m definitely throwing more curveballs than usual. But the slider, it was kind of a pitch that was working better as the day went on. So we just kept relying on it. It was getting better each time.”

Some days, even when you’re good, the opposing pitcher is even better.

Oakland starter JP Sears came out on top in the pitchers’ duel, holding the Rangers hitless (0-for-18, three walks, five strikeouts) over his first 6 1/3 innings. He surrendered a one-out single to Adolis García in the bottom of the seventh inning, but the Texas hitters were unable to scratch out another hit for the rest of the day.

“What a job the pitching did,” said Rangers manager Bruce Bochy. “That's a game we gotta win, when you get that kind of pitching. Look at what Sears did, we didn't do very much, obviously, against him. We really didn't get a lot of good swings off, not a lot of hard contact. Really the only rally we had was in the first inning when Marcus [Semien] got us off with the walk and the stolen base. But yeah, tough day for the hitters.”