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Gray puts it all together in lights-out start

Righty dominates Rangers in his best Cactus League outing
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Jon Gray decided to pick up the pace Monday night, to dominating results.

After entering the game with a 10.22 ERA, Gray blew through a mostly regular Rangers' lineup, with nine strikeouts and four hits allowed in 6 1/3 scoreless innings, as the Rockies won, 5-1.

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Jon Gray decided to pick up the pace Monday night, to dominating results.

After entering the game with a 10.22 ERA, Gray blew through a mostly regular Rangers' lineup, with nine strikeouts and four hits allowed in 6 1/3 scoreless innings, as the Rockies won, 5-1.

View Full Game Coverage

Before Spring Training began, the Rockies had asked their starters to pace themselves, and devote outings to perfecting without caring about the results. Well, Gray put some effort into his 85 pitches, and for it received a standing ovation from Rockies fans.

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"I still need to tighten up a few things in some areas, but it felt good to go out there that many times, start over, get strike one, start over," Gray said. "That's how we treated the whole thing. It felt more like an in-season start."

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Rockies manager Bud Black has yet to officially name Gray the Opening Day starter, but Monday was the type of outing he expects from a rotation leader.

"We talked about starting pitchers setting a tone," Black said. "We just haven't seen a lot of that this spring. Even though this is a Spring Training game, you see what happens when you get a good start."

Before Monday, Gray tried out a couple different windups, tested different paces of delivering pitches from the stretch and even adjusted pitch strategy. It led to some unfruitful performances, but Gray has made a couple interesting discoveries.

In his last start, he gave up five runs and six hits in four innings against the Dodgers but struck out six, mainly because a slider that was inconsistent last year (he still went 10-4 with a 3.67 ERA) had returned in full force.

Video: COL@TEX: Gray sets down Beltre in the 1st inning

On Monday, a tighter slider that stayed in the strike zone worked better than it had in a while. The sliders add to a fastball that reached 97 mph Monday and a curve that was a strikeout pitch.

"It was the down slider," he said. "When I get it going, it's my ground-ball pitch. It's just like a four-seam. It's not going to stay straight. I feel like it's a good pitch in any count."

Before the game, Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster said he had no concerns about Gray.

"Spring Training ERAs are like left-handed knuckleballs," he said. "There's no point.

"One of these next two outings it would be nice to see him have a smooth one. But nobody looks up Spring Training numbers come June and says, 'What was his ERA in Spring Training?' The fans won't either. Why? Because it's insignificant."

Video: COL@TEX: Gray K's Rua, escapes trouble in the 4th

But Gray hopes he can carry the feeling into the season.

"I like the way the day felt, the tempo of the game," Gray said. "When things are going really good, you're rolling through innings like that, it's a really good feeling. I want to get ready for the season. That's the best thing for me."

Foster noted that Gray's assignments this spring are "working on the secondary pitches, frontwards and backwards pitches, locating the fastball with precision and perfection, and speeding his times up out of the stretch on the running game."

Well, the running game wasn't much of a factor. He gave up one walk, three singles and a Delino DeShields triple on a line drive that scooted by center fielder David Dahl. Not much time to work from the stretch.

While no one likes rough Cactus League starts, the Rockies' spring was partly by design. Before Monday, the six pitchers vying for the five rotation spots had a combined 6.44 ERA that would have been worse if not for Antonio Senzatela's 1.62.

Video: COL@TEX: Gray K's Odor, strands runner on second

"They're doing some things that are important individually for each guy, not focused on the results of Spring Training baseball games," Foster said.

For example, lefty Tyler Anderson is trying to hit locations above and below the strike zone, and righties German Marquez and Senzatela and lefty Kyle Freeland all are throwing secondary pitches more than they would in a normal game.

There is no guarantee that all the tinkering will lead to immediate success. Still, they all hope to get the assignments complete and perform like Gray and righty Chad Bettis, who is happy enough with his delivery to turn his focus to competing in the last two starts.

"It's a natural occurrence that you know where you are in Spring Training," Black said.

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