Gray struggles, but motivated to get on track

Rockies right-hander focused on correcting issues that have led to tough August

August 23rd, 2021

DENVER -- Separating intense disappointment from perspective just takes time.

The Rockies' 8-4 loss to the D-backs on Sunday afternoon at Coors Field went nearly four hours, mainly because Colorado's bullpen struggled with control and Arizona starter Taylor Widener walked five while giving up only one run and one hit in five innings.

Still, it was too soon for Rockies starter Jon Gray to separate what he should hold onto. All he saw was a fourth straight start in which he fell into ruts. A three-run homer served to Daulton Varsho on a misplaced slider in the second and a pair of sixth-inning walks issued to the final two batters Gray faced were still fresh in his mind.

“I only have like maybe one good thing to take from today,” Gray said. “It was just bad all around from the get-go.”

But Colorado manager Bud Black is going to let some time pass before coaching the positives to Gray, who took the loss that ended the Rockies’ season-high-tying win streak at five games.

Black saw Gray use a solid curveball and battle through 5 1/3 uneven innings, walking off the mound with a 3-1 disadvantage. Bases-loaded walks issued by Lucas Gilbreath and Robert Stephenson pushed Gray’s final earned run total to five and drove his ERA over the past four outings to 6.75.

But Gray’s performance had more positives than, say, the bullpen’s inability to keep the game close and the hard-to-explain lack of offense, as the Rockies had only one hit before the eighth inning.

“One thing I’ll share with Jon -- probably tomorrow -- was I thought his curveball was legit today,” said Black, whose team is 43-22 at home but now embarks for nine games on the road, where it is 14-45. “There were some punchouts with it, good shape to it, good spin. The slider was good, too.”

There is not much to be gleaned from Gray’s postgame stance. His in-game intensity has helped make him one of the most accomplished pitchers in club history. Nothing is on paper yet, but indications are a new multi-year agreement between Gray and the Rockies could be more a matter of when than if. So the team will take him being mad after a start like Sunday's.

The message to Gray will be to keep honing a pitch mix that has generally worked well for him. Before his four August starts, Gray had a 3.62 ERA through his first 19 outings.

“The curveball showed up, and he threw it more, which I liked,” Black said. “I commented to [catcher] Dom [Nuñez] that the usage was great. The slider was good, so that’s a good sign. I think he gave up a hit to [Josh] VanMeter on a changeup the inning they scored three runs.

“If Jon can get to the point where the curve is utilized more and the changeup comes into play, it’s a very solid four-pitch mix for a Major League starting pitcher.”

Gray will address the slump with his usual intensity. He said his delivery is “all over the place right now,” and the inconsistent results are frustrating. But he has handled such situations before.

“Earlier in the year, [my delivery] was kind of out of whack, but I tried to be as athletic as I could with my catch play and a lot of mirror work,” said Gray, who pantomimes his delivery in front of a mirror so he can search for flaws without having to put his arm under the stress of throwing. “But there's something I think I'm missing right now that maybe could just click and fix it. I’m striving to find that.”

Gray also may add “dry” sessions off the mound and even go to two light bullpen sessions before his next start. Whatever disappointment he carried from Sunday, he’ll try to use it for good.

“I'm going to do whatever I can to get rid of all this mess,” Gray said.