Gray fighting velocity dip but not concerned

Rockies starter working to fix mechanics, location problems

June 29th, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO -- Rockies right-handed pitcher is more concerned about the season-long streak of ineffectiveness than his three-game run of reduced velocity.

At least Gray's struggles didn't cost the Rockies on Thursday afternoon against the Giants. Handed a three-run lead in the bottom of the fourth, Gray languished as the Giants tied the game. He was a helpless observer of a wild game that saw DJ LeMahieu hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to give the Rockies a 9-8 victory.

The Rockies' Opening Day starter the last two years, Gray has an unsavory 5.77 ERA through 17 starts.

Thursday, he hung a first-inning slider to for a homer that gave the Giants a 2-1 lead. After the Rockies scored four times in the fourth for a 5-2 lead, Gray yielded three runs on three hits and two walks in the fourth, then was out of the game after surrendering two infield hits in the fifth.

His recent velocity drop bears watching.

He entered Thursday averaging 95.1 mph on his four-seam fastball, but in the finale, he produced a 2018 single-game low 93.1 mph and didn't break 94 mph until the fourth. In the last two starts before Thursday's game -- one a six-run outing in Texas, the other a 12-strikeout win at home against Miami -- he averaged 93.8 and 93.9.

He averaged an eyebrow-raising 92.5 mph in the first inning against the Giants, well below his first-inning average of 95.7 mph on the season.

In some cases, a velocity drop points to health issues, but Gray and manager Bud Black focused on location rather than velocity.

"It'll pick back up on its own," Gray said. "I just need to throw every ball with intent, then I don't think [velocity] should matter."

Gray has gone through some mechanical work. With the fastball, the coaches have emphasized pulling the ball out of his glove quicker to give his arm a chance to catch up with his body during his stride toward the plate. An arm whipping through late means pitchers don't hit the bottom of the strike zone.

"I know that we've placed an emphasis on keeping the ball down -- mid-thigh to the knees," Black said. "Whether he sacrificed velocity for command, that's a better question for Jon. I did notice when it got a little hot -- a few crisis situations -- I saw some 95s. But it was down a little bit."

Good or bad, Gray stays in the strike zone. He finished Thursday with seven strikeouts, but he also yielded five runs on seven hits in just four-plus innings.

However, Gray's struggles when the Rockies really need him are concerning. He had just two walks, but one was to to open the bottom of the fourth after his team had given him a lead. The other came three batters later.

"That was frustrating for Jon, for all of us," Black said. "The leadoff walk to McCutchen, you gotta go after that guy. You gotta really set the tone when it's your opportunity to really send a message to not only the Giants but to our group. We just scored four. Go out there and start pumping strikes, and Jon wasn't able to do it."

The Rockies lost the first two games of the series but had solid work from on Tuesday night and seven scoreless innings from on Wednesday. Until he finds answers, whether they be in delivery, velocity or location, Gray will not be the pitcher the Rockies need -- one to keep runs going or to stop bad streaks.

"Not a lot of feel for anything today, didn't have very much good stuff," Gray said. "I was trying to get stuff in the strike zone. I had plenty of movement, but I just felt I didn't put stuff in the right spots.

"Its [velocity] is down a little bit right now, but then again a good pitch is a good pitch. An executed pitch is a good one. I'm just focused on being at the bottom of the zone."