PHOENIX -- Even with the comfort of air conditioning at Chase Field on a 108-degree Friday at sundown, Rockies right-handed pitcher Jon Gray felt the burn -- not of the desert sun, but of the Rockies' season-worst eight-game losing streak. But to him, it was just a dry heat.Focusing on
PHOENIX -- Even with the comfort of air conditioning at Chase Field on a 108-degree Friday at sundown, Rockies right-handed pitcher Jon Gray felt the burn -- not of the desert sun, but of the Rockies' season-worst eight-game losing streak. But to him, it was just a dry heat.
Focusing on strategy rather than the responsibility on his shoulders -- in his first Major League appearance in 12 weeks -- Gray struck out 10 over six innings in a 6-3 victory over the D-backs.
"I knew it was a big opportunity to have a good game and really try to turn things around," said Gray (1-0), finally back as the No. 1 starter in the rotation after suffering a navicular stress fracture of the left foot on April 13 at San Francisco. "All that stuff crossed my mind, but whenever I stepped over the line, I was thinking about pitch by pitch, trying to execute each one.
"Actually, I didn't have very many butterflies at all. That's starting to go away, which is pretty cool."
Why be nervous? Gray, after three Minor League rehab starts, had a biting slider -- a pitch he used to put away D-backs star Paul Goldschmidt three times on strikeouts. He commanded his fastball best in his final two innings.
"Jon held his stuff, for sure," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "What I saw today was a repeatable delivery that he maintained."
A young rotation that has the Rockies third in the National League West -- but safely in the NL Wild Card race if the playoffs started now -- struggled through its last turn or so.
Jeff Hoffman's 6 2/3-inning, two-run performance at San Francisco on Tuesday was the only quality start (six or more innings, three or fewer runs) during the losing streak, and Kyle Freeland's six innings and four runs against the Giants on Wednesday was the most passable of the others. Beyond those, just one of the other starts exceeded four innings.
So Gray -- who was selected third overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, set a Rockies rookie record with 185 strikeouts last year, and started this year's opener -- embraced the chance to be stopper for a day, as he moves toward building the track record deserving such a title.
Gray gave up two runs and seven hits, and faced a baserunner in every inning but his last. The roughest inning was the fourth, when Chris Owings put a poorly located first-pitch fastball into the left-field seats to open the inning, and Brandon Drury doubled and Daniel Descalso drew his only walk to follow the homer.
"It was frustrating," Gray said. "There were missed spots. But I didn't have any doubt I was going to get down in the zone and get some more outs. I just tried to turn the page as fast as possible."
Gray worked a harmless fly from Chris Herrmann, the No. 8 hitter, struck out pitcher Robbie Ray and worked Gregor Blanco into a pop in short left.
"He's real good about understanding how to pitch through jams," Rockies catcher Ryan Hanigan said. "When he's on with his command, he's going to be tough."
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**.