No Gray Area: Jon Is Ace of Rockies Rotation

SCOTTSDALE, Az. – Jon Gray has come of age.

He is the ace of the Rockies rotation. And he’s earned it.

This isn’t the case of someone has to start on Opening Day, so it might as well be him.

Nope.

This is a case of he is going to start Opening Day for the Rockies at the Diamondbacks on March 29 and he’s earned it during his two full seasons in the big leagues. He’s not just the best starting pitcher on the Rockies staff. He is emerging as one of the best pitchers in the game.

His numbers might not be quite as pretty as some but be honest. If hitters are penalized when it comes time for recognition because of the Coors Field factor, then pitchers deserve extra credit when they have tamed that hitter-friendly monster.

And understand that Gray has been good and in what will be his third full season he should be even better. He is mastering the art of pitching and never was it more evident than on Monday night against the Rangers in Surprise, Az.

All that teeth-gnashing over the 10.22 ERA he had compiled this spring going into the game was wasted time. Manager Bud Black has stressed from Day 1 that until the final two weeks of the spring he wanted the pitchers to focus on refining their game, stats be dammed.

“Nobody looks up in July and says, `What was his ERA in spring training,’” said Black. “Why? Because it’s insignificant.”

The focus on results starts the last couple of starts of the spring, where the approach is centered on being ready for when the games start to count.

Gray carried out the script perfectly in what will be his next-to-last spring appearance before he takes the mound against the D-Backs in the season opener – a distinction that has not been officially announced but is a foregone conclusion.

Gray answered the critics with 6 1/3 shutout innings against the Rangers, giving up four hits and a walk while striking out nine on 85 pitches. Oh, and he said he can be better.

“I put in a lot of good work the last few weeks,” he said. “I’m glad to see it paying off. There are still some pitches that are not quite where I want them, but they are close.”

What is there is the curveball, a pitching Gray began to use a year ago and has refined to the point this year it figures to be more than a “show me” off-speed pitch. That was evident against the Rangers.

“I’m happy with the curveball,” he said. “I got a lot of strikeouts with it. I need something slow and that is something I can use to get strikeouts.”

Here’s the thing with a curveball. It has a major velocity variation from the fastball and it has downward movement that can throw a hitter off so there are two advantages.

"It should be a big pitch in his arsenal," said Back. "You are talking velocity separation (from the fastball)."

It is a pitch that doesn’t have as much break at altitude as sea level, but it doesn’t have to.

Burt Hooton made a living with a knuckle curve which the late Bus Campbell taught him when Hooton spent a summer during his days at the University of Texas pitching for the Boulder Collegians. He shook his head at the claim of some that a curveball can’t be effective at altitude.

“You aren’t going to get as big a break as sea level, but you don’t need as big a break,” said Hooton. “You just have to adjust your release point to keep the ball down. It’s an adjustment. Pitching is about adjustments. You make them every time you pitch, whether it’s a Dodger Stadium or Coors Field.”

Gray understands.

He also understands what it means to get an Opening Day start, particularly on a team that is expected to be a factor in the battle for a post-season spot.

“I want nothing more than for people to believe in me,” he said. “Things like the wild-card game happen, but my teammates know I’m a fighter. I’m not going to let that bother me. They know that. They believe in me.”

So, does manager Bud Black and the Rockies coaching staff.

And with his effort against the Rangers Gray not only reinforced the faith of his teammates and the Rockies staff but gave the fans an indication of what he was working to accomplish in the spring.

Tracy RingolsbyComment