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Gray enjoys fan interactions, looks ahead to '18

MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- It was as if Wednesday was the fans' chance to stoke Rockies pitcher Jon Gray's excitement for the 2018 season, rather than the other way around.

Gray, who had his wild, blond mane shaved last year for charity, practically melted when a fan told him, "By the way, I love your hair. It's gorgeous." A fan, setting an example for his young family, asked Gray -- plus pitchers Kyle Freeland and Jeff Hoffman, and infielder Pat Valaika -- what he wanted to improve.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- It was as if Wednesday was the fans' chance to stoke Rockies pitcher Jon Gray's excitement for the 2018 season, rather than the other way around.

Gray, who had his wild, blond mane shaved last year for charity, practically melted when a fan told him, "By the way, I love your hair. It's gorgeous." A fan, setting an example for his young family, asked Gray -- plus pitchers Kyle Freeland and Jeff Hoffman, and infielder Pat Valaika -- what he wanted to improve.

"Delivery," Gray said. "If I get my delivery, it'll fix everything."

Video: MIA@COL: Gray fans five in six innings vs. Marlins

A boy who looked at Gray and said, "I love the Rockies," received a hug and a signature. Later, Gray said, "It gets me fired up when we talk baseball, new moves and all the young guys coming up. Our fan base is everywhere; not just Denver."

Gray, who had been at Rockies Winter Caravan stops in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday, and will be in Denver on Thursday, appreciated the warmth Wednesday at the Rockies Dugout Store. It was a change of pace from the cold that he took into the offseason -- even though he embraced that feeling as well.

Last season ended on a sour note. After holding opponents to three or fewer runs in his final 13 starts -- one game shy of Ubaldo Jimenez's club record -- Gray yielded four runs on seven hits in just 1 1/3 innings during the 11-8 loss to the D-backs in the National League Wild Card Game.

"It's still there," Gray said. "I decided to use it as fuel and motivation for the offseason. It's been a blessing in disguise for me.

"I wanted to get back out there and just redo everything. But it doesn't work like that. You've got to wait and earn your spot. That's all I can do right now, focus on getting back to that spot and showing what I can do."

Gray, 25, made his first season-opening roster, started on Opening Day for the first time. He gave a preview of what he can accomplish -- 10-4, 3.67 ERA, 112 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings -- even though he missed 2 1/2 months with a stress fracture in his right foot.

In 2016, his rookie year, Gray missed much of the first month with an oblique injury and struggled early before settling into a 10-10, 4.10 finish in 29 starts. Gray is motivated for wire-to-wire dominance -- something necessary for the Rockies, who are trusting that their group of 20-something pitchers can continue to succeed in an NL West full of veteran starters.

"From what I've seen, with guys like Tyler Anderson, Jeff Hoffman, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela; those guys have had a lot of success with their first taste of Major League Baseball," Gray said. "They're not scared of anything.

"I have all the confidence in the world in our guys and our depth, too; defensively and offensively. We'll have a very well-rounded team this year. The division is getting tougher, too, but we did well against them."

Gray can dominate games with a lively fastball and slider, and last season he unveiled a curveball -- a pitch he had never made part of his arsenal, even though his high-arm angle and 6-foot-4 frame made it a natural option. The changeup, which can be a weapon on his arm side is his next project.

In addition to an improved delivery, Gray believes stamina will help. Because of the foot injury, Gray lost conditioning in his legs and dropped to 219 pounds. Now he is 225, and in an offseason program that emphasizes leg work, with throwing to come later.

Video: Gray joins Hot Stove to discuss offseason workouts

"Being healthy is all I can ask for this year, because last year I missed a lot," Gray said. "I couldn't lift with my legs at all. It'll be a lot different. Plus I got on a big eating train, had some fun with that, and put my weight back on."

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