McMahon, Arenado HRs back dominant Gray

August 17th, 2019

DENVER -- So much for pitching being a solitary endeavor. Whether it was ’s perfect placement for a line drive to end the seventh or ’s spinning snatch of a one-hopper to end the eighth, clapped his hand against his glove to lead a Coors Field crowd that hasn’t had a lot to appreciate lately.

As for his own exploits -- eight scoreless with no walks and seven strikeouts -- Gray treated them as expected events. For the last two difficult months, Gray (11-8) has discussed a team in need of some event to turn things around. While it would take a miracle for a game like Friday’s to have an effect this year, the Rockies’ 3-0 victory over the Marlins was the type Gray has been talking about all year.

“There were so many good moments with our energy in that game that it can definitely ignite something,” Gray said. “When we’re doing those things, it makes us, us.”

Despite the records of the Rockies (55-67) and Marlins (45-76), Gray believes at least the Rockies -- who unlike the Marlins expected to be a contender -- are in an important stretch. Friday marked just the second time since the All-Star break that they had won two straight, and they haven’t had a three-game win streak since June 18-20. It’s the type of funk that can have a team either splintering or head-butting.

Either direction is the wrong way. Gray, who has joined German Marquez (who will start Saturday as the Rox chase the elusive third straight) as consistency leaders on an otherwise disappointing staff, is doing his part from the mound to assist the team in pulling together.

“It’s a good way to spread energy,” Gray said. “When good things are happening, let them know that it’s happening because of them. Let them know that they’re doing the right things. They’re putting their talents on display. That’s going to get us where we want to be.”

Offensively, the Rockies made do with home runs by Ryan McMahon (his third in four games), for two runs against Sandy Alcantara in the second, and Nolan Arenado, his team-leading 28th off Ryne Stanek with two outs in the eighth. McMahon said much of the game’s energy radiated from Gray.

“Jon is great when he’s going like that; he’s fired up,” McMahon said. “He’s more fiery than he even shows out there. It’s great. He loves the defense we play behind him, and we always play hard for him.”

Gray (11-8), who has gone eight innings twice and at least seven in three of his last five home starts, put his knowledge into action Friday night.

Knowing Marlins hitters lead the Majors in ground-ball percentage, Gray, who can often work high in the zone for his strikeouts, worked down with his fastball. His first strikeout was down in the zone to catch Isan Diaz looking. And after giving up two of his five hits to open the second inning, he found the sharpness of his slider, which also rode at the bottom of the zone.

Gray finished with 12 ground-ball outs, which fits a recent pattern -- double-figure groundouts in five of his last seven starts.

“He kept it down, made pitches down -- elevated it when he needed to and got a couple of strikeouts up, but for the most part kept the ball down,” said manager Bud Black, who said Gray -- at 100 pitches -- wanted the ninth, and he would have been given a chance had the lead been larger.

Gray escaped Neil Walker’s one-out triple off the high fence in right-center in the seventh by forcing a short Starlin Castro fly and Harold Ramirez’s liner to Alonso. McMahon’s short-hop play came with one on base to end the eighth.

Last year, when the Rockies fulfilled expectations and made their second straight postseason trip, Gray spent some time in Triple-A trying to find himself and didn’t appear in the postseason. Even with heavy criticism, Gray knew he was better than that. He just felt he needed to not only identify what works, but why.

“That’s what we need for next season,” Gray said. “If it ends well or not, we need to have a chip on our shoulder, because for most of the year we weren’t us. Best thing to do right now is be the best version of us every single day we go out, and just carry it over.”