Gray aims to be a force after foot fully heals

August 31st, 2019

DENVER -- Rockies right-hander vows to be on the front foot next year.

Gray used a scooter Friday at Coors Field after having surgery a week ago to insert two screws to correct a stress fracture in his left foot. He said correcting an issue that bothered him more than he let on for the last three seasons could be the difference between where he is now, glowing from a solid bounce-back performance after a down 2018, and his goal.

“The goal is to come in and be even more of a guy that people want to play behind, more of a guy that when they take the field, they know they're going to win that day,” said Gray, 11-8 with a 3.84 ERA while starting all but one of his 26 appearances. “Just go out and win.

“All the time, I play against people like [Zack] Greinke and [Clayton] Kershaw, those good starters. You know that feeling when you take the field against them, you're going to have to get everything you can get from them. I want that same feeling when I take the mound. I want the other team to feel this advantage.”

Gray’s injury first occurred in mid-April 2017. He rested it and finished the regular season 10-4 with a 3.67 ERA in 20 starts, before going 1 1/3 innings of a loss in the National League Wild Card Game. This year, he didn’t miss any starts because of the foot injury until the Rockies pushed back a start in early August, after he experienced pain after slipping on the dugout stairs in San Diego on Aug. 8.

Gray came back with a sterling eight scoreless innings, with seven strikeouts, in a 3-0 victory over the Marlins at Coors Field on Aug. 16. He didn’t pitch again and said that even if the team were in the postseason race, he doubts the foot would allow him to pitch.

All along, he feared sudden push-offs, and there was pain off and on.

Gray will be in a cast until Thursday, then a walking boot for about three weeks. After that, he expects to be cleared for full offseason work.

Part of Gray’s much-chronicled struggles in 2018 (12-9, 5.12 ERA) were because his weight dipped to 215. A revamped eating program helped. He reported this spring at about 230 but was down to 218 for his last start. He expects better foot stability to allow him to train differently, which could mean Olympic-style lifting that includes full-body movements, with a goal of reporting at 235 and maintaining 225 throughout 2020.

“I think it'll even be a better one because by the time the offseason gets here, I'll be fully recovered and be ready to start over from ground zero," Gray said. “There were things that I stayed away from because I knew it could trouble it, like pushing sleds, things like that. Things with high impact on it, I didn't want to do. A whole lot of jumping ... I can't do jumps. So there are a whole lot of things now that I'm able to do because it's not going to recur.

“It [2019] was a good response to last year, but there's a level that I need to get to that's a little bit better. I know it's there. That's why I'm so excited. I'm going to take that same attitude into this next year and respond that way, but this time with a little bit more help from my body."