Reds tab Sonny Gray as Opening Day starter

July 8th, 2020

CINCINNATI -- With a rotation as formidable as the Reds have this season, manager David Bell definitely was not short of candidates for the opportunity to begin the abbreviated 2020 season.

Bell announced on Wednesday that will be the club’s Opening Day starter vs. the Tigers on July 24 at Great American Ball Park.

“To be an Opening Day starter, especially in this circumstance, I try to put myself in that moment,” Gray said. “It’s going to be an important day. It’s going to be a fun game to play. Baseball will be back, and it will be back in some of the weirdest and craziest circumstances within the baseball game that’s it’s ever, really, been a part of. I think 2020 is going to be a season that is going to be remembered forever."

Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Wade Miley and Anthony DeSclafani form the rest of the rotation order. Gray previously made two Opening Day starts during his time with the A’s.

“There is no denying that Sonny has stepped up,” Bell said. “He’s a leader. He sets a great example. He also had a great season last year. Given that it worked out that way, we couldn’t have asked for a better option to set the tone for the season for our rotation.”

Bell noted that plenty went into making the decision to begin the season with Gray.

“There was a lot of strategy,” Bell said. “We believe in all of our guys so much. We could have come up with any order and felt great about it. Some of it had to do with their readiness. That was kind of the No. 1 factor. The second factor, to the best of our ability, was matching up our opposition the best we can. It’s a stretch of 17 games until the first off-day. It was doing the best we could of matching guys up.”

Gray, 30, was an All-Star during his first season in Cincinnati and went 11-8 with a 2.87 ERA and 205 strikeouts over 175 1/3 innings. He was at his best from June 28 onward, going 8-3 with a 1.99 ERA over 16 starts beginning on that date. In that span, the Reds lost in five of his starts, but he allowed no more than three runs in each of those team losses.

No two Reds starters had each recorded at least 200 strikeouts in the same year until Gray and Castillo achieved the feat last season. Castillo was the team’s Opening Day starter in 2019, and he was also an All-Star, going 15-8 with a 3.40 ERA and 226 strikeouts in 32 starts (190 2/3 innings).

Bell made sure he let Castillo know that choosing Gray for the opener was not a knock on him.

“You can imagine that conversation was all about, ‘Hey, this has nothing to do with your performance or our faith or confidence in your ability.’ It was more the other two factors,” Bell said.

Tyler Mahle will be prepared as a starter going into the season, in case he is needed for a tandem or piggyback type of start for one of the back-of-the-rotation arms. Lucas Sims could also factor in similarly.

“We’re confident that our starters are going to be able to go deep into games from the beginning, but I would say Tyler and Lucas will both be built up and ready to go and serve in that longer role from the beginning as needed,” Bell said.

Gray said that he and his family hunkered down at their Nashville, Tenn.-area home for much of the coronavirus quarantine. But eventually he started playing ball with other Major Leaguers in the area, including teammates Curt Casali and Phillip Ervin. Pitching coach Derek Johnson was also often on hand.

“We had about six to seven weeks of we’d meet three times a week at a local high school,” Gray said. “It would be me, Curt, Mike Yastrzemski, Tony Kemp, Phil Ervin was there a lot. … DJ would come and he’d just kind of sit in the stands a lot and get his little baseball fix on and let us do our thing. There were times we were rolling up with wagons that had baseballs, cases of water and we’d do our thing. We threw batting practice to each other.”

Cincinnati acquired Gray from the Yankees for two Minor Leaguers and a competitive-balance Draft pick on Jan. 21, 2019.

“Just to be starting this thing for us and this little journey that we’re going down, it’s something that I was hoping that would happen,” Gray said. “It was something that I was preparing myself to pitch in that game because if the opportunity came, I wanted to be ready. I want to be ready mentally. I want to be ready physically.”