LOS ANGELES -- Starter Sonny Gray came into Wednesday’s series finale against the Dodgers looking for a turnaround after a slow start to the 2021 season. Gray had allowed seven runs in eight innings in his first two starts ahead of his outing at Dodger Stadium.
With Clayton Kershaw taking the hill against the Reds, Gray stepped up to the task of slowing down the 2020 World Series champion Dodgers opposite of the three-time National League Cy Young Award winner.
Gray, a two-time All-Star, allowed two runs on four hits and three walks and fanned 11 Dodgers through his 5 2/3 innings during the Reds’ 8-0 loss.
“You get to compete against the Dodgers, you get to take the mound opposing Kershaw and you know, he's one of the best to do it,” Gray said. “So it was just a day that I just wanted to come out and compete.”
The 11 strikeouts were just one shy of Gray’s career best. Six of Gray’s strikeouts were looking, which matches Dodgers starter Dustin May for the most strikeouts looking in a game this season.
The performance from Gray garnered praise from Kershaw, who kept the Reds scoreless through seven innings.
"Sonny was pretty nasty today,” Kershaw said. “It was tough to see the ball. He was nasty.”
The only blemishes for Gray came in the second and third innings. After allowing Chris Taylor and AJ Pollock to both reach base in the second, Gray induced a double play against Luke Raley that allowed Taylor to score the game's first run. Gray’s second mistake of the day was leaving a 1-1 sinker in the middle of the zone to third baseman Justin Turner, who lifted the pitch out to left-center field for a solo shot.
“Looking back, you could call it the wrong pitch; I just call it bad execution,” Gray said. “But the plan I thought was OK, I just didn't execute. ... I just didn't have that late action on it [and it] just kind of stayed there, and he put a good swing on it. That was an unfortunate thing that happened on our side.”
The outing was the first of the season where Gray pitched past the fifth inning. His battery mate Tyler Stephenson said that Gray wanted to bounce back from his last performance, where he allowed five runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Cardinals last Friday.
“I know just coming off of his last start, he wanted to make a statement,” Stephenson said. “He did. Velo was up, command was there [and his] breaking ball was as good as always. And it was good to see him back to what he can be.”
Gray said that getting in a strong week of work between starts put him in a position to have success against the Dodgers.
“I knew last night that I was going to throw the ball well,” he said. “I knew I was going to come out and compete. I just had a good week of work, I had a good week of preparation.”
Gray’s first start of the season was delayed until April 17 after he went down with a mid-back muscle strain during Spring Training. After showing glimpses of his former All-Star self, Reds manager David Bell said that Wednesday’s outing can be seen as a stepping stone to success for Gray.
“[Gray] really looked sharp and he looked really similar to what we've seen here in the last couple of years, which is really encouraging,” Bell said. “He had the injury in Spring Training and sometimes it just takes a few starts to get back on track. So that was nice. … I think today could really help him moving forward.”