Gray passes Nolan Ryan for MLB record

Right-hander strikes out 9 over 6 2/3 strong innings for 11th win

September 18th, 2019

CHICAGO -- When the Reds acquired Sonny Gray last offseason from the Yankees and subsequently gave him a three-year, $30.5 million extension, they were confident that the former Oakland ace could not only be effective, but that he could get back to being dominant.

“We believed in his talent,” Reds manager David Bell said after Gray continued his stellar 2019 during the Reds’ 4-2 win over the Cubs on Tuesday at Wrigley Field. “We believed in the success that he’s had throughout parts of his career, and we believed that when he put it together, he could be this guy. I don’t want that to take away from how hard he’s worked or the adjustments he’s made to really make him one of the best pitchers in the game right now.”

Gray struck out nine over 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks, adding to an already impressive Cy Young résumé. In the process, he passed a Hall of Famer en route to an MLB record.

The outing was Gray’s 32nd consecutive start of allowing six hits or fewer, setting a Major League record (excluding openers) and passing Nolan Ryan’s previous mark.

“To be mentioned in the same sentence as one of the most competitive people that have played this game, it’s crazy,” Gray said. “I don’t know what I think about it to be honest with you. You might have to ask me tomorrow.”

Being able to break records held by “The Ryan Express” speaks to the level at which the resurgent Gray has pitched during his impressive 2019 campaign. But how did Gray take himself from the high of being one of the best starters in the American League to the low of being taken out of the Yankees’ rotation, only to bounce back to elite performance?

New pitch? Different arm slot? Nope. For Gray, it was actually pretty simple.

“I think a lot of times you think, ‘I need to fix my slider. I need to fix my curveball or get my fastball in this location. I need to do this,’” Gray said. “The first thing you need to do is fix what’s in between your ears. You can’t fix a pitch sequence or pitch shape of a slider or how you throw this pitch or when you throw this pitch until you fix your head.

“It’s not about stuff. Everybody’s got stuff. What’s different that’s going to separate you from everyone else?”

Those changes to the mind, which he says he started making in the offseason and continues to work on with pitching coach Derek Johnson, have made the product on the field that much better. Gray was reunited this season with Johnson, who was his pitching coach during his time at Vanderbilt University.

While Gray’s mentality has been key this season, it doesn’t hurt to have a sharp slider.

“That slider,” Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist said, “he threw a lot of strikes with it, kept it in the bottom of the zone and then below the zone when he needed to. He pitched well, and he's been pitching well all year.”

Not only has Gray, whose nine strikeouts put him at 199 on the season, returned to top form this year, but he’s also starting to put the finishing touches on a season that may have him headed toward a top-5 finish in National League Cy Young Award voting.

Gray ranks in the top 5 in the NL in ERA and in the top 10 in strikeouts per nine innings, FIP and fWAR, and the .603 OPS that he's held opponents to this season is the second lowest among qualified starters in the NL. Since the break, his 1.92 ERA ranks third in the Majors, behind the Cardinals' Jack Flaherty and reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom.

“Outside achievements and recognition, I think it is important,” Gray said of being mentioned in the Cy Young conversation. “But at the end of the day, it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing for me is getting back to having joy playing baseball. I’ve always considered myself one of the best starters in the league since I’ve come into the league. That’s just kind of how I’ve gone about things.”

Gray knows he may not take home the most prestigious award for pitchers, but it didn’t stop him from having a little fun with reporters when talking about his chances.

“If I’m going to Vegas, I’m going to say no,” he joked.