DENVER -- Just a few of Rockies right-hander Jon Gray’s 95 pitches Wednesday afternoon bugged him. The last one, a walk to the Padres’ Patrick Kivelhan to load the bases in the sixth, galled him especially, since he could not make up for it.
Reliever Robert Stephenson, who had given up just two earned runs in his previous 11 outings, gave up a Victor Caratini grand slam on his third pitch, and the Rockies lost their fifth straight, 5-3, at Coors Field in the first game of a seven-inning doubleheader.
Gray fanned six in 5 2/3 innings. Yes, he’d have liked a chance to make it six innings. But going from an 0-2 count to waking Kivlehan and throwing strikes on just 11 of his 20 pitches in the sixth meant manager Bud Black would put the game in Stephenson’s hands with the game tied at 1.
“I felt good through the fourth and fifth inning, and then the last two innings I didn’t feel that great,” Gray said. “I don’t know if maybe I lost my tempo, or I didn’t feel as in tune as the rest of the game. So maybe the coaches thought of that and made a decision. I still think I could have gotten them out but you never know.”
The Rockies nearly made the point moot. They scored two in the sixth and forced closer Mark Melancon into the game. The Rockies also loaded the bases with two out in the bottom of the seventh, and Elias Díaz took Melancon to 10 pitches before popping to second baseman Austin Nola in short right field.
“It was a great battle, both teams played hard, and the sixth and seventh I thought all the way through the lineup we had good at-bats,” Black said.
In most of his starts, and almost invariably at home, Gray has been enough to put the Rockies on top. Because of an error charged to second baseman Alan Trejo in the sixth, just one of the four runs off Gray was earned. So, Gray has a 2.00 ERA in five home starts. For the most part, Wednesday was like the other starts.
“The fastball had a little better life today -- just a tick up,” Black said. “If you make all your starts there's going to be games like today where velocity is up just a little bit. I thought he threw the ball well. The slider was good, he got some outs with the changeup and mixed in a couple curveballs.”
But Gray was left to lament a few pitches gone awry. He hit Nola to load the bases with two out in the fifth and was beaten by a tip-your-cap play -- Trent Grisham’s squeeze bunt for an RBI to tie the game at 1.
“I think I commanded the baseball very well -- just one got away,” Gray said of hitting Nola.
The walks in the sixth were to Tommy Pham with one out and Kivlehan with two down, with Trejo’s error in between.
Gray said he offered encouragement to Stephenson, who has quickly earned high-leverage situations after beginning the year in a low-pressure role. Besides, Gray had his own regrettable pitches to absorb.
“It was really fun -- a really clean game that gets along really nice, exactly what you want,” Gray said. “There were only three or four pitches I’d really change today.”