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Rockies counting on Gray, young pitching staff

Righty's return could help Colorado get back on track
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

The Rockies' eight-game losing streak going into Friday night's game at Arizona screams for a special pitcher. Right-hander Jon Gray, who started on Opening Day but hasn't pitched in the Majors since suffering a navicular stress fracture of the left foot, hears the call.

"I've never been a loud guy, but I've never shied away from trying to lead by example," said Gray, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft -- in other words, he was drafted for games like this. "It's something I can take care of, and I'm looking forward to it."

The Rockies' eight-game losing streak going into Friday night's game at Arizona screams for a special pitcher. Right-hander Jon Gray, who started on Opening Day but hasn't pitched in the Majors since suffering a navicular stress fracture of the left foot, hears the call.

"I've never been a loud guy, but I've never shied away from trying to lead by example," said Gray, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft -- in other words, he was drafted for games like this. "It's something I can take care of, and I'm looking forward to it."

Gray's start isn't about one night. It's part of an attempt to answer a larger question: Can an inexperienced pitching staff -- a key reason the Rockies (47-34) are a contender at the season's midpoint -- deliver a postseason berth, or the club's first National League West title in its 25-year history?

Colorado's current rotation has three rookies in righties German Marquez (15 Major League starts) and Jeff Hoffman (13), and lefty Kyle Freeland (16). Right-hander Antonio Senzatela, who is currently working in relief to reduce his innings load, has 15 starts.

Video: ARI@COL: Marquez tosses six innings of one-run ball

Lefty Clayton Kershaw, ace of the first-place Dodgers, has more postseason appearances (18) than any Rockies rookie has regular-season starts.

The rookies are not buttressed by graybeards either.

Righty Tyler Chatwood, 27, has the most games (113 appearances, 114 starts). Righty Chad Bettis, who could return after a bout with testicular cancer sometime around the All-Star break, is the oldest at 28. Gray and lefty Tyler Anderson, currently out with a left knee injury that the Rockies hope will just cost him four weeks, are second-year men. None of these hurlers has pitched in the postseason.

Video: COL@CHC: Chatwood allows one run over six frames

Manager Bud Black, a pitcher who earned a World Series ring on a young staff with the 1985 Royals, said ace, stopper, No. 1, whatever, is a label earned.

"A stopper for me is a guy that passes the test of time over many Major League starts," Black said. "But is it unfair to say, 'Hey, man, are these guys capable of pitching a great game?' Not at all. We've seen it."

Between now and the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadine, the Rockies could trade for a playoff-race tested pitcher at the top of his game, or even a talented pitcher with more experience. But since becoming general manager in October 2014, Jeff Bridich concentrated on homegrown pitchers, and traded for prospects such as Hoffman (Blue Jays) and Marquez (Rays).

The only young starter Bridich has dealt was righty Eddie Butler, to the Cubs for righty power relief prospect James Farris. Would the Rockies deal youth -- maybe multiple young pitchers -- for a veteran? Or would they prefer using other resources for bullpen help?

The last two games are sign maybe young starters can be trusted.

Video: COL@SF: Freeland ends the 6th inning with a K

The first six games of the losing streak consisted of five poor starts and Anderson's 2 1/3 innings before he aggravated a knee injury that had cost him nearly a month. But Hoffman and Freeland were better the last two games at San Francisco. Help will come from Gray and, eventually, Anderson and Bettis.

"When you have a young staff, what to me is more important is the way you handle yourself and your performance," Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster said. "Do we need that to happen? It has been happening.

"We're in a little bit of a lull here. That has to be expected. We weren't going to win 130 games. There are going to be periods of valleys and there are going to be mountain tops."

On Friday, Gray will take his turn aiming for the summit.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.

Colorado Rockies, Jon Gray