Gray gives Rangers what they needed most

June 13th, 2022

CHICAGO -- The Rangers needed Jon Gray more than ever in his start on Sunday afternoon. After relying on a bullpen game on Friday and playing extra innings on Saturday, Texas hoped that Gray could eat innings with its relievers limited. 

The right-hander did just that by delivering his third quality start of the season and helping the Rangers in an 8-6, 12 innings win against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field to claim the series victory.

“That was an amazing, hard-fought game,” manager Chris Woodward said. “There’s so many things that went into that game. Jon Gray was good, the rest of our bullpen did a good job and Kolby Allard hasn’t pitched in 10 days and then comes in and wins the game for us.”

After going to extra innings for the second consecutive game, the Rangers sealed another close victory in the 12th on a two-run single from Jonah Heim and Charlie Culberson’s game-ending double play to get White Sox center fielder Luis Robert at third base.

“This is a really good team win,” said Allard, who got the save in the 12th. “There were a lot of guys that contributed to this win, basically all 26 of us. It was good to cap it off how we did.”

But Gray’s strong start gave the team a chance to win all afternoon. He went six strong innings, allowing just three hits, one run and three walks with 10 strikeouts. Most importantly though, he helped preserve bullpen arms after a grueling couple of days for them.

“We know we have limited options,” Woodward said pregame of his bullpen situation. “But that’s where Jon Gray comes in [and], hopefully, will eat up a bunch of innings and be successful today.”

Entering Sunday, the Rangers’ bullpen pitched 13 of 19 innings in the series and nine of 10 relievers had appeared in at least one game -- only lefty Allard hadn’t pitched. Gray, though, did what was asked of him: he followed the game plan and allowed the team to save arms when it mattered most -- in extra innings.

“[He] was good,” Woodward said. “It was exactly what we were looking for. Honestly, we needed him to go at least six. We knew we were pretty short [in the bullpen]. But for him to go six innings like that was big.”

The 30-year-old primarily found his success on Sunday from his top two pitches -- four-seam fastball and slider. He threw those a combined 95 percent of the time and drew 18 whiffs. He also added one more whiff on his changeup for a season-high 19, the most in a start by Gray since June 13, 2019.

“He had a good command of the slider,” Woodward said. “The fastball had a ton of life at the top of the zone.”

Added Gray: “I felt pretty well. I came out with a pretty good mix and we kept them off balance. I started to get a better feel as the day went on.”

Gray -- who was signed to a four-year, $56 million contract over the offseason -- was a big part of the Rangers' plan to revamp their roster along with the signings of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager.

Sunday’s performance showed Gray’s willingness to be a reliable starter in the Rangers' rotation, something that the team lacked in 2021.

Texas’ rotation finished last season with the third-worst ERA in the Majors (5.33) and last in combined Wins Above Replacement with a 2.1, according to FanGraphs. Those numbers became worse once the club traded away Kyle Gibson’s 2.87 ERA at the Trade Deadline. In the last 82 games -- from July 1 to October 3 -- the Rangers’ starters had an ERA of 6.12 and a WAR of -1.4, both worst in the Majors.

That’s why Texas set its eyes on a veteran like Gray -- who had seven years of service time.

Early on though, Gray struggled to be the pitcher Texas needed. He dealt with two separate injured list stints -- a knee sprain and a finger blister -- and carried a 7.50 ERA through his first three starts.

But despite the early-season troubles, the right-hander is starting to settle in. On Sunday, he lowered his ERA to 4.85 and has now put together two quality starts in his last three outings.

“I think the slider is really finding its feel now,” Gray said. “I think I’m getting a better feel for that and just using it on both sides of the plate now. That’s been a game-changer.”