MIAMI -- The pitch count was high early and the walks were piling up for the Reds’ starting pitcher on Monday night against the Marlins. Like a computer that isn’t performing up to standards, Sonny Gray did the simplest thing he could think of: he rebooted himself.
Gray continued his strong stretch of starts during Cincinnati’s 6-3 victory over Miami at Marlins Park. Over his six-plus innings, he gave up two runs and only two hits while striking out six and tying a season high with five walks.
One batter into the third inning, Gray had compiled four walks but hadn’t yet allowed a hit. Following Jon Berti's leadoff walk, Neil Walker finally made the right-hander pay by slugging a 2-1 fastball for a two-run homer to right-center field and a one-run Marlins lead. By the time he completed the third inning, Gray was already at 62 pitches. Pitch efficiency improved from there, however, as he breezed through a 1-2-3 fourth inning on seven pitches.
“It wasn’t an easy game,” Gray said. “I think I was able to kind of settle in a rhythm and get quick outs and see what happens. Obviously, I want to be a little bit better than that. You can’t walk five guys and expect positive results.
"I came in after the third and I just tried to resettle, kind of start over. Go out there and just start over. Here we are. Who cares what just happened. The game is 2-1. Let’s just start over. Let’s just start this day over with.”
When the going got tough, Gray got … into a whole new uniform.
“Guys were giving me stuff because I was in the clubhouse and I didn’t have any clothes on. I literally started over,” Gray explained. “They were giving me crap about it, but I didn’t think it was weird until they started talking about it in there. I just started over and tried to go out there from the fourth inning on and go as long as I could.
“I threw two warmup pitches in between innings. That was good. That was weird. I do some weird things every now and then.”
As Gray was turning his night around, Freddy Galvis turned the game back in the Reds' favor. With one out in the fifth, Galvis lifted a three-run home run to left field, extending his career high to 22 on the season.
After Walker's homer, Gray retired the next 12 batters in a row.
“Once you get the lead there, again, you want to hold it,” Gray said. “You want to do what you can to make sure that you stay out in front. If you get the lead, that’s when you create positive energy and positive energy creates better results. I think that’s why shutdown innings are so important for a pitcher because you want to get momentum and keep the momentum.”
Manager David Bell let Gray bat for himself in the top of the seventh so he could continue pitching. But a leadoff walk by Isan Diaz and Jorge Alfaro broken-bat single ended Gray’s evening before he could record an out in the bottom of the frame. Michael Lorenzen left both runners stranded in scoring position and went on to pitch two scoreless innings.
“I think in between innings, it started catching up to him a little bit,” Bell said of Gray. “Up until that point, he was great and continues to pitch very well for us.”
In 11 starts since June 28, Gray is 7-1 with a 1.70 ERA. And in five August starts, he’s 4-0 with a 0.90 ERA, bringing his overall record to 10-6 with a 2.92 ERA in 26 starts. When attention shifts to 2020, Cincinnati can sleep well knowing that the three-year, $30.5 million contract extension Gray signed after his offseason trade from the Yankees doesn't even begin until next season, and the Reds are excited that he can form a potent three-headed ace with Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer, both of whom will also return in '20.
“We have a really strong group of starters. That’s also one of the things we really love about our team. Not only can they end a losing streak, we just believe that was the first step today. We believe in this team’s ability to get on a roll still,” Bell said. “To have guys like we have in our rotation is a big advantage for us.”
Being swept in a three-game series by the last-place Pirates over the weekend likely doused whatever lingering embers of postseason contention the Reds thought they still had. But contending or not, a positive response was required when their current 11-day, 10-game road trip moved to Miami on Monday.
Gray proved to be just the right guy for the job.
“We still have seven games left on this road trip,” Gray said. “We’re just going to go out there and play and see what happens.”