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In line to pitch Opening Day, Gray turns to curveball

Special to MLB.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies begin the regular season in exactly 30 days, which means Saturday's Cactus League starter is in line to take the ball on Opening Day in Milwaukee.

And it should come as no surprise Saturday's starter was ... Jon Gray. Yes, the 25-year-old former first-round Draft pick is in line to be the Rockies' Opening Day starter.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies begin the regular season in exactly 30 days, which means Saturday's Cactus League starter is in line to take the ball on Opening Day in Milwaukee.

And it should come as no surprise Saturday's starter was ... Jon Gray. Yes, the 25-year-old former first-round Draft pick is in line to be the Rockies' Opening Day starter.

"Is he?" manager Bug Black said on Saturday morning, his tone drenched in faux surprise. "Oh, wow."

Black, of course, gets the final say in the matter. So, will Gray go from not having a Major League win at this time a year ago to being named the ace of the franchise?

"There it is," Black said of the question, as if ending any further wagering as to when he would first field it this spring.

"We'll cross that bridge when we get there," Black continued, "but we're not ready to announce our rotation yet."

Gray, for his part, did nothing to hurt his chances a few hours later. The right-hander followed up a strong first start five days earlier with two innings of one-hit ball in an eventual 4-3 loss to the Mariners at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Gray gave up just one hit -- a solo home run to Mike Zunino. With his slider not biting like he wanted, Gray went to the curveball more often and had Jean Segura way out ahead of it for a first-inning strikeout.

Video: SEA@COL: Gray strikes out Segura in the second

"I know last year, if I didn't have my slider like I didn't today, it would have been a completely different story," Gray said. "But I'm very happy to be able to get out of that with just changeup and curveball."

Gray's work with the curve came a long way over the offseason.

"I'm very excited about the curveball. I'm very confident in it," Gray said. "I can throw it for a strike whenever I need to, and today I can use it as an out pitch."

As for why he couldn't control what is normally a plus slider, Gray was puzzled.

"It should work every day; I don't understand," Gray said. "Maybe it's the way I'm throwing it. I just need to get back to thinking fastball with it, I guess."

Gray will do that next time out, he said. Assuming Gray remains on a schedule of pitching every fifth day, that will be against the World Baseball Classic's Team Puerto Rico on Thursday.

And if he continues along that path, April 3 against the Brewers at Miller Park.

"It would mean everything," Gray said if he were to earn the nod. "I'd get the opportunity to go out there and win our first game. It'd be a great honor."

Chris Gabel is a contributor to MLB.com.

Colorado Rockies, Jon Gray