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Inbox: Is Gray an ace, depending on catcher?

MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

CHICAGO -- Another strong performance by Rockies righty Jon Gray with Tony Wolters catching sparks the first Edward Jones Beat Reporter's Inbox question.

CHICAGO -- Another strong performance by Rockies righty Jon Gray with Tony Wolters catching sparks the first Edward Jones Beat Reporter's Inbox question.

Tweet from @jacobklaus1: Will wolters keep catching when gray is on the mound?

In four starts throwing to Wolters, Gray has a 2.10 ERA with a .196 opponents' batting average and 30 strikeouts against three walks. And this goes back to late Spring Training, with no runs in their final 9 1/3 innings together. Even if the numbers with Chris Iannetta were better -- and with a 10.29 ERA and .375 opponents' batting average across three games, they're not -- it's hard to ignore.

It can be a tough choice if the opponent starts a lefty, with the right-handed-hitting Iannetta an offensive option. Iannetta has struggled at the dish, but he is hitting .212/.333/.333 against lefties, better than Wolters' .200/.385/.200 split versus southpaws (and .128/.239/.128 overall line). But the demand for pitching is king, and it's hard to sneeze at Gray's numbers with Wolters behind the dish.

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One potential reason is that Wolters has been Gray's teammate longer, although in 12 previous appearances in 2016 and '17 as battery mates, Gray had a 5.78 ERA. The eye test says Wolters's work at the edges of the zone helps Gray.

"We look at these things," manager Bud Black said Wednesday morning. "I don't know whether we're there yet to say, 'This is what we'll do for the rest of the season,' but we're aware that it's happening."

Wolters noted that there isn't a rift, because Iannetta -- a more veteran catcher than Wolters -- helps them strategize.

"If we want to win games, we've got to put our heads together," Wolters said. "We're doing a really good job being a team and putting our pitching plans together."

Tweet from @orig_rockiefan: Is the hope that our team offensive woes only need a spark (a few folks starting to rake collectively) in order to jump start it? #Rockies

This is a catch-all for many hitting-related questions. The Rockies have lived by the home run, with 63 of their 129 runs (48.8 percent) coming via the long ball. It's a boom-or-bust offensive method. With 24 home runs in 19 road games and 13 in 12 home games, conventional wisdom says the home power will increase over the rest of the season, but regression might be in store on the road. Forty of the Rockies' 67 road runs (59.7 percent) have come via the homer, 19 on solo shots.

Injuries, suspensions and bad weather have hurt. The bigger problem, however, is that the Rockies are counting on inexperienced players to fill out the bottom of the order, and there are multiple parts lagging. One reader questioned the brief playing careers of hitting coach Duane Espy and assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar, and wondered if coaching change would make a difference. But I don't think so -- the Astros won the World Series last year with Dave Hudgens (seven Major League games) as their hitting coach.

Tweet from @Eric_C_Swanson: Jon Gray has looked good in his last two starts. BUT, if he doesn���t turn into the ace that the Rockies need - which other pitcher on the roster do you see having the potential to step up?

Being in Chicago, I can paraphrase former Bears star Mike Ditka's comments about contract negotiations: I throw the term "ace" around the way most people throw manhole covers. The Royals went to two World Series and won one without a bona fide ace. If you can get a Justin Verlander, that's wonderful.

Black is exercising patience with Gray because, well, it works. He wasn't setting the league on fire before his foot injury, last April, or immediately after he came back, but his work in August and September was a key to the Rockies' postseason trip last season.

Kyle Freeland, Tyler Anderson and Jeff Hoffman were first-round Draft picks, like Gray, and German Marquez was coveted coming out of Venezuela. Prospects like Peter Lambert, Ryan Castellani and Jesus Tinoco are on the radar. The club wants Gray to do well, of course, but if someone surpasses him as the "ace" while he's still pitching well, the team is simply stronger.

The question to me is: No matter how Gray or any other Rockies pitcher does, is there a time when the Rockies pull the trigger on a deadline deal if a Verlander-esque pitcher is available?

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

Colorado Rockies, Jon Gray, Chris Iannetta, Tony Wolters