Gray proving to be long-relief asset for Rangers

October 31st, 2023

PHOENIX -- Nine years into his career, has started in all but one of his 205 regular-season appearances. But the playoffs call for any means necessary, and for Gray, that has meant pitching out of the bullpen on the biggest stage.

The right-hander delivered his second clutch performance this postseason in the Rangers’ 3-1 win in Game 3 of the World Series to take a 2-1 lead over the D-backs on Monday at Chase Field.

“I love it. I love it,” Gray said. “This is the most important time of the year for us. We've worked so hard to get here, and to be able to help and be a good part of this team, it feels amazing.”

Gray covered three scoreless innings following the early exit of Max Scherzer with an impressive pitching line of one hit, no walks and three strikeouts. Gray worked efficiently with only 30 pitches (25 strikes), becoming just the second pitcher to deliver three-plus scoreless relief innings in a World Series outing with 30 pitches or fewer, joining Francisco Rodríguez in Game 2 of the 2002 World Series with the Angels.

"What an effort to be able to come in and just give quality outs,” said Scherzer. “That's a lineup that's hitting the ball well, and huge kudos to him for doing that. He shows you why we're a great team. I go down with an ailment, and he comes in and gives us quality innings and gets three innings and no runs and keeps them at bay and gets the ball to Sborzy [Josh Sborz]. That's why we're a great team. It's not just one player, it's a team."

Gray made 29 starts this season, but he also battled injuries, including right lower forearm tightness that landed him on the injured list in late September. He was activated for the playoffs on Oct. 15, and he has made three relief appearances since then: a one-run inning in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, 1 2/3 scoreless frames in Game 1 of the World Series and his Game 3 outing, which dropped his postseason ERA to 1.59.

Gray is the seventh pitcher to record multiple scoreless relief outings of five-plus outs and three-plus strikeouts in a single World Series, along with Tim Lincecum (2012), Alejandro Peña (1988), Sid Fernandez (‘86), Rollie Fingers (‘72), Clay Carroll (‘70) and Lefty Grove (‘29).

“I think the last couple of days have really solidified that lockdown factor,” Gray said. “I feel like I had the stuff to come in and lock down, I feel like I can do late, early, whatever. It’s just a huge confidence booster to get that opportunity and then capitalize [on] it.”

Gray stifled the D-backs with a pitch mix of 15 sliders, 14 four-seam fastballs and one curveball that had teammates and opponents alike buzzing after the game. His fastball reached 97.8 mph (above his season average of 95.7 mph) and his slider topped out at 91.8 mph.

“Jon’s been throwing the ball well,” said Rangers second baseman Marcus Semien. “Not a lot of people are talking about him, but his velocity’s up there, 97 [mph]. It’s a different role for him in the bullpen, so he’s able to kind of let it eat [with] a little bit more velocity. He’s always had a good slider, so it makes him that much tougher when he’s throwing 97.”

Echoed D-backs first baseman Christian Walker, “I feel like he's been throwing that slider harder than what I remember. Even the heater is kind of straight, but it's got a little pull-cut to it, too. That slider is late and it's hard. Still trying to figure out that shape."

Manager Bruce Bochy believes with the way Gray was pitching, he actually could have gone deeper into the game. He lauded Gray for his strength and stamina.

“He's really thriving in this role,” Bochy said. “He's got a lot of confidence going. I'll start with he's healthy right now. I think he's excited about that. He was dealing with the arm, but now back to who he is, he knows he's getting the ball where he wants, his velocity, his slider.”

So what will Gray’s next appearance look like? The versatile pitcher who already has filled multiple roles is thinking big, even when asked about starting in a potential Game 7.

“If that's something we need? Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely,” Gray said. “However I can help, whatever that is. I don't care if I have to go in and bunt, I don't care. We're gonna help the team out.”