Gray returns to form, but 1st win still elusive

May 23rd, 2021

CINCINNATI -- During the top of the sixth inning Saturday, with Sonny Gray going against the Brewers, Reds manager David Bell went out to check on his starting pitcher before he faced Jackie Bradley Jr. Lefty reliever Amir Garrett was warmed up and ready, if needed.

“[Bell] said, ‘I have Amir ready," Gray said. "I said, ‘Let me get this guy.’ And he said, ‘OK.’ One pitch later, they had the lead."

Bradley slashed a two-run single that one-hopped hard off of first baseman Alex Blandino to put Milwaukee ahead. But the game was ultimately decided in the seventh inning. Daniel Robertson slugged a first-pitch slider from Heath Hembree for a home run to center field as Cincinnati was handed a 4-3 loss by the Brewers at Great American Ball Park.

For Gray, the search for his first victory of 2021 remains elusive. In a no-decision, he pitched six innings and gave up three earned runs and five hits with four walks and eight strikeouts.. 

Over seven starts, Gray is 0-3 with a 3.96 ERA.

"I think he’s in a great place," Bell said. "He’s got a really good fastball right now, he’s healthy, good curveball. He’s going to keep getting sharper. The main thing is he’s healthy and he’s committed and excited to go out there every fifth day. We know we’re going to get his best and we’ll take that every time." 

The first hit that Gray gave up after he retired his first seven batters -- including the last five on strikeouts -- was a home run to left field by Luis Urías in the top of the third inning. But the Reds’ lineup picked up their pitcher in the bottom of the third. Scott Heineman led off against Brett Anderson and hit a 2-2 pitch to center field for a home run.

With two outs in the Reds' third inning, Jesse Winker delivered again one day after a three-homer game. On a 2-0 count against Anderson, Winker hit his 12th homer of the season -- a solo drive to right field for a 2-1 Cincinnati lead.

Misfortune found Gray in the sixth inning following a leadoff double and a walk. There were two outs when the right-hander and catcher Tyler Stephenson got their signals crossed. Gray fired a 1-0 fastball to Willy Adames that nicked Stephenson's glove and squarely hit home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa on his facemask. Kulpa went down hard and required medical attention.

The game was delayed for an extended period after Kulpa walked off the field under his own power. Second-base umpire Nic Lentz took over behind the plate and Gray -- who threw several warmup pitches during the delay -- walked Adames on his next two pitches.

Bell regretted not making the pitching change.

"I should have taken it out of Sonny’s hands in that case," Bell said. "We’ve had those discussions before and I trust him; a lot of times, he’ll be completely honest with me, and he was today. … Once there was a long delay, at that point, it was asking a little too much of even Sonny Gray, as much as we believe and trust him. At that point, I should have taken it out of his hands. We did have Amir ready to go there."

Gray didn't believe that the delay affected him negatively. He blamed himself.

"Too many walks. They always come back to bite you at some point," Gray said. "It was a weird delay. I don’t think I’ve been a part of that before. I was glad to hear that Ron was OK after.

"Even the pitch to Jackie, maybe it leaked over a little more of the plate than I wanted, but I was trying to throw a fastball up and in. 0-0, I felt like I made a decent pitch there and it just didn’t work out for us.”