Gray (8 K's) paints, looks sharp in return

September 9th, 2021

Last week, as he waited out his brief term on the injured list, spoke about his desire to reach 10 wins this season -- and his fleeting opportunity to get there.

On Wednesday afternoon, in his return from right forearm tightness, Gray did everything he could through five innings to inch closer to his goal. He even drove in the game’s first run. But he unraveled in the sixth, and the Rockies crumbled in the ninth in a 7-4 loss to the Giants at Coors Field.

The last-minute loss capped a three-game sweep, marking the first time the Rockies have been swept at home this season. Additionally, their four-game home losing skid is their longest since the first week of the year.

Colorado carried a 4-3 lead into the final frame, thanks to a solo homer by Elías Díaz (part of a three-hit day, with two doubles to boot), when Carlos Estévez entered for the save. He allowed the first four batters to reach safely, and he eventually matched his season-high with four runs allowed.

“Take away the first three or four batters in the ninth, and I thought we pitched outstanding,” said manager Bud Black, whose club struck out the Giants 17 times.

Eight of those strikeouts belonged to Gray, who held the Giants in check for most of the afternoon. San Francisco had pulverized Colorado pitching through the first two games of this series, to the tune of 22 runs on 30 hits, but it managed only two hits, a walk and a hit-by-pitch in the first five frames against Gray.

The game was scoreless entering the bottom of the fifth, as the Rockies’ hitters were equally perplexed by Giants starter Anthony DeSclafani, who’d entered the day 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA against Colorado this season. Naturally, it was Gray -- hitless in his previous 25 at-bats -- who broke the 0-0 tie with an RBI single through the left side.

More important, though, was Gray’s work on the mound. He had his paintbrush working, as he garnered a season-high 24 called strikes, including 14 on his mid-90s fastball. Gray felt the Giants were daring him to hit his spots, and he capitalized.

“It makes me feel good, because I know I’ve walked way too many guys this year,” said Gray, who owns a career-high 3.8 walks-per-nine-innings rate. “And that’s one thing I really want to focus on these last couple starts is [to] try not to walk anyone.”

Gray has three, maybe four, starts left in 2021. He said he wants to end the year feeling like he’s the best pitcher he’s ever been. But how do you quantify that? Would reaching 10 wins be enough, or is it more abstract?

“I think it’s a feeling,” he said. “If you can get to the park every day and know, ‘This is how I throw, this is what I do,’ then that’s what I’m always searching for.”

In the way that Gray only has so much control over a game’s outcome, he also possesses only partial control over the next step of his career. The 29-year-old, picked third overall by the Rockies in the 2013 MLB Draft, is set to hit free agency at the season’s end.

He’s motivated to finish strong before hitting the open market, but that’s only half of it. Gray has called Coors Field his home ballpark for seven years, and in case this is the end of that run, he wants to make it count, too.

“I don’t want to say it could be my last year here, but I really want to appreciate every time I take the field with this team,” he added. “Even if there’s a few more left, or 100 more. I want to do the best I can every single time and really enjoy the times I’m out there.”