DENVER -- Jon Gray wants to stay.
That’s good news for the Rockies, who could potentially lose Gray to free agency in the offseason. For years, the club and Gray have tried to coax from his right arm the full potential it holds, which is immense.
There have been times when it looked as though that potential was being realized, but then came stretches like the one Gray is in now. Following the Rockies’ 7-2 loss to the Giants at Coors Field on Saturday night, Gray’s ERA over his last eight starts is 6.23, and in none of those eight outings has he gone more than 5 1/3 innings.
“What it feels like for me is [I haven’t been] getting into a good tempo and making pitches,” Gray said. “ … I feel like games have been kind of dragging by. It’s been a lot of walks, so I need to eliminate those. It’s just, being on the plate more, getting guys to put the ball in play more. Just putting the ball in their court, attacking, that’s what’s missing.”
As was the case in the series opener Friday night, the Giants buried the Rockies with a barrage of home runs, setting a single-season franchise record for homers -- 236 -- when Brandon Belt launched his second of the game off Gray in the fifth inning. Belt got Gray for a solo homer in the first to give San Francisco an early 1-0 lead, and then drove in three more runs with the fifth-inning blast.
Gray went 4 2/3 innings, surrendering four runs on five hits. He didn’t walk a batter, though the right-hander uncorked a wild pitch and hit two batters. Gray also struck out five before Belt’s second homer brought his evening to a close.
“I think the simple answer, as far as not getting past the sixth, is that there are some mistakes in there that have cost him, where we’ve had to [take him out] of the game based on the score,” manager Bud Black said of Gray’s difficult stretch. “More detailed, probably a number of at-bats, through those eight starts, where he has gotten ahead, and he hasn’t quite been able to put guys away consistently. And also those counts where maybe he’s fallen behind, they’ve gotten hits.
“If you look at every start, there are probably points in the game where an at-bat or pitch that has been critical has gone against him.”
Gray, who turns 30 in November, has long been seen as a potential frontline starter -- trade interest over the years from other clubs confirms the notion. But if the Rockies re-sign him, the same question that has loomed like a gray cloud throughout his career remains: Will he ever find consistency?
Following what may have been his last start as a Rockie at Coors Field, Gray admitted it’s been a “tough go.”
“I haven’t made it easy for myself,” he said. “I’ve always fought this whole time, and it’s never been an easy road. But then again, it’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world -- it’s grown me a lot. It’s pushed me to new limits. It’s been a heck of a ride, and the success, winning a game for the Rockies is amazing, especially at Coors Field. I’ve appreciated every single part of it.”
If that was, indeed, Gray’s 75th and final start at Coors Field while wearing a Rockies uniform, all of his potential -- there’s that word again -- created a set of expectations that he perhaps did not meet in his seven seasons with the club. But Black made it a point to note just how good Gray has been overall, despite the ups and downs.
“If you really dig deeper into the numbers with Jon -- like really dig deep -- and look at his entire body of work and how it stands up to the other 150 Major League starting pitchers during his tenure, it might look really good to you. It really might,” Black said. “… You look to see where Jon is when he’s taken the mound and the work that he’s done, you might find a very solid Major League starting pitcher over his tenure here.”
If Gray re-signs with the Rockies, his calibration will continue in Denver. If he moves on, it will be debated whether his “solid” body of work met external expectations. But one thing is certain -- Gray loves it here.
“I just feel extremely fortunate and blessed to be able to take the ball here and pitch for this team,” he said.