'Nasty' Gray turns tables on Mariners

RHP's 7-inning gem lays groundwork for Rangers' late comeback

May 9th, 2023

SEATTLE -- Rangers manager Bruce Bochy has emphasized the importance of having pitchers to go toe-to-toe with the opponents’ best, night in and night out.

The Rangers desperately needed that Monday night, as Seattle’s Logan Gilbert tore through Texas’ lineup with six perfect innings to open the game. But did go toe-to-toe with him, ultimately prevailing in a 2-1 win for Texas in the series opener.

“It does [fire me up],” Gray said of squaring off opposite a pitcher dealing as efficiently as Gilbert was. “He threw incredibly well. We didn't falter in the hard time. We pitched through some things and the offense finally got to Gilbert there at the end and found a way to sneak in a few runs. That's what good teams do, and it's nice to see us do it.”

Rangers second baseman , who broke up Gilbert's perfect game with a single to lead off the seventh inning, said having Gray on the mound for Texas was huge, since he also pitched like they all knew he could. 

After surrendering a first-inning homer to Ty France, Gray buckled down, bouncing back with six shutout innings and keeping the Rangers within striking distance -- and the offense struck just in time, pushing two runs across in the seventh to turn the tide on the Mariners. Gray struck out eight, coaxing 20 swings-and-misses, 10 of which came on the slider.

The only way to win a close game like this is to have an elite starting pitcher to keep the game close, Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said postgame. Gray did exactly that. 

“That’s the Jon Gray we know,” Bochy said. “He had a big fastball, great slider, was pounding the strike zone. He gave up the home run on the first pitch to France in the first inning, but he didn't get flustered, [he] kept going and gave us what we needed. It's good to see him get on track and throw a game like tonight.

“He just was repeating his delivery a lot better tonight, he looked so much more in sync. That's when he's really good. You look at some of those other outings, he was all over a little bit and you could see his confidence grow as the game went on. Again, it was a solid seven innings for us.”

Of Gray’s 89 pitches, 36 were sliders (40%). It was the first time this season that he’s thrown more sliders than four-seamers in an outing and the first time he’s thrown more than 34 sliders in a single game at all this season. 

“It was part of the game plan, but it was also just working so well I wasn't gonna back away from it,” Gray said. “When it's working like it did tonight, I can use it as much as I can, and I just really have a lot of confidence in it.”

, who closed out the game for Texas, emphasized just how big it was for the entire pitching staff to keep the game tight with Gilbert dealing on the other side.

“Nasty, man,” Smith said of Gray. “He was hanging right there with [Gilbert], you know? Early, he gave up the homer in the first and then he locked it down the rest of the game. So that was a good, good team win.”

It was no doubt Gray’s best outing of the season. It was the furthest he’s gone with the fewest runs allowed, fewest walks allowed and the most strikeouts, and Gray capped his all-around excellent night by retiring the final seven batters he faced.

After a rough first month of the season in which he produced a 4.40 ERA over six starts, Gray said he’s finally feeling like himself. 

“A lot more, a lot more [like myself],” Gray said. “I think I figured some things out. It was great to be able to be lean on the coaches and some other starters. They've been a big help this week and even last week, just trying to help me get back to me. It's been great, and the fight has been hard, but I'm getting there. I feel like I'm not thinking so much about what I need to do. It's more me versus them and when that's going on, I feel like I'm in the right spot.”