MESA, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Jon Gray believes his entire game is in regular-season form.
Saturday night's start in a 3-0 loss to the Cubs was an abbreviated tuneup for Thursday's expected Opening Day start against the D-backs, though manager Bud Black has yet to officially announce who'll get the nod. Gray faced the minimum nine batters while throwing 28 pitches over three scoreless innings.
Gray's overall spring ERA is 5.82, but here's what matters: In his last two starts, against the Rangers and the Cubs when both teams used a healthy number of regulars, Gray threw 9 1/3 scoreless innings with five hits, 11 strikeouts and one walk.
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"I just pretended like I was going seven, eight, nine innings and kept that mindset, and we threw some more pitches in the bullpen and stretched it out," said Gray, who threw 45-50 pitches total. "I'm feeling better every day. I really feel good about my during-the-week work, those four days in between. I'm getting a lot out of it right now."
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With the Cubs swinging aggressively, Black said Gray "showed good life on the fastball, threw some good sliders, a couple good sliders down below the zone, too. The delivery looked good, arm action was fine. Jon's in a good spot."
Gray saved some pitches by picking off Kris Bryant after he singled in the first. Last season, Gray picked off two baserunners and had one error on an attempt.
"It's definitely something I want to look to improve," Gray said of controlling baserunners. "It's pretty aggravating when a guy does take second base on you and he's in scoring position and you're out of the double play."
Tony Wolters, who is expected to back up Chris Iannetta, caught five of Gray's six spring starts. But Black said Iannetta, who signed for two years and $8.5 million, will start the season opener. The matchup works for the Rockies, since Iannetta, who caught for the D-backs last season, bats right-handed and the D-backs will start lefty Patrick Corbin.
Wolters gives the Rockies a lefty who can face a difficult righty should Black choose. And this spring, especially in the last two starts, Wolters and Gray have had a mind-melding.
"Me and Tony are really close," Gray said. "He knows what I'm thinking a lot of times. I know what he's thinking a lot of times. He's a guy that likes to get creative, too. When I shake and I want something else, he knows exactly what to go to. I feel like he's right there with me -- same page."
Return to the No. 8 spot
The Rockies' lineup sets up for the catcher to bat eighth -- a place Iannetta hit often while breaking in with the Rockies from 2006-11. In 416 games in that spot, he has hit .221 with a .357 on-base percentage and .390 slugging percentage. His career batting average (.231) and slugging percentage (.407) are higher at No. 8, in part because he drew more walks while hitting in front of a pitcher.
But as with everything, experience has made Iannetta more knowledgeable and confident. This spring, he is hitting .333 with four homers and nine RBIs in 24 at-bats.
"It's a combination of being aggressive but knowing you might not get a lot of pitches to hit in certain situations," Iannetta said. "It's keeping up your aggressiveness so the one pitch you get to hit, you capitalize on it."
The Rockies will face the D-backs at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on Sunday in a matchup available live on MLB.TV. It's lefty Tyler Anderson's turn, but since he is expected to face Arizona on Friday in the regular season's second game, righty Yency Almonte will make the Cactus League start. Anderson and righty closer Wade Davis will do their work on the back fields.