Gray to be key piece of injury-riddled Rangers rotation

February 26th, 2024

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers’ rotation -- and potential competition for the No. 5 spot -- has been the talk of camp, and with a trio of pitchers in Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Tyler Mahle opening the season on the injured list, it’s easy to see why.

So with the Rangers’ relative lack of depth in the rotation to start the season, right-hander will be vital for the club’s success early on in 2024.

The 32-year-old hasn’t made a Cactus League appearance yet this spring, but he pitched in an intrasquad game on Monday prior to the Rangers' 4-2 win over the White Sox at Camelback Ranch. In two innings, he allowed one run -- a homer from rookie Evan Carter -- with one additional hit, a walk and three strikeouts.

“I just want Johnny to be the one we saw at the end and through a big part of the season,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He got sidelined there a little bit but he's so good when he's right, and we've seen it. What a great run he had there for a while, and then of course he wasn’t stretched out where we could start him at the end of the postseason and we used him in the ‘pen.

“He was a difference maker. He looks good now. He's throwing the ball well, and it's when he’s pounding the strike zone the way he does that he's really good.”

One thing Gray is focused on during camp is diversifying his pitch mix.

For much of his career, the right-hander has mainly worked with a fastball-slider heavy combo, along with changeups and curveballs sprinkled in. Here was Gray’s pitch mix in 2023:

  • Four-seamer: 42.4%
  • Slider: 33.5%
  • Changeup: 11.6%
  • Sweeper 6.3%
  • Curveball 6.2%

Now -- after scrapping the sweeper for a more traditional slider mid-2023 -- Gray wants to use both the curveball and changeup a lot more frequently.

“Hopefully we go from using them two or three times [per game] again to closer to 10,” he said. “So just trying to show the slider and fastball less… It’ll make the fastball and slider a little bit better. If that's not just the only thing you are really looking for as a hitter, then it's gonna be a lot tougher. Like the margin for error can be a little bit larger for me.”

In his second year with the Rangers in 2023, Gray posted a 4.12 ERA in 157 1/3 innings (29 starts). He had a strong first half, including five starts in May when he held a 1.95 ERA in 32 1/3 innings, including eight scoreless frames against the A’s on May 13.

He struggled with inconsistency in the second half before landing on the injured list with right lower forearm tightness just weeks before the postseason. Gray ultimately made three relief appearances for the Rangers in the postseason -- one in the ALCS and two in the World Series -- allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings.

“I feel like it kind of reinforced some things I knew about myself,” Gray said of coming out of the bullpen. “I don't have to do a million different things just to pitch. I don’t have to do all these drills or whatever, it's as easy as picking it up and going out there and doing a job to just reinforce some of that.”

As one of the veteran members of the rotation now, Gray is mostly hoping for his first fully healthy season in a Rangers uniform as he hopes to help the club repeat.

“I feel really healthy, ready to go,” he said. “That's gonna be the biggest thing for us, to stay healthy. Because we’ve got guys that can play so we're out there looking good.”