A Darker Shade of Gray for Rockies in Arizona

Fortunately, there are 161 games to play.

Fortunately, there is plenty of time for the Rockies to expunge the demons from what was a forgettable Opening Night to the 2018 season.

Unfortunately, in a season with so much hope the Rockies stumbled in their first date of the regular season, losing to the D-Backs 8-2 on Thursday night.

It wasn’t as coyote ugly as that night on which the dreams of 2017 came to an end in the same ballpark, Chase Field, against the same team, the D-Backs, in an 11-8 loss that limited the fourth post-season appearance to just one game.

But it wasn’t pretty.

Ugly?

Jon Gray, last seen pitching in a meaningful game giving up four runs in 1 1/3 innings of a start against the D-Backs in that wild-card showdown, saw a 1-0 lead courtesy of DJ LeMahieu’s home run in the top of the first, evaporate in the midst of a three-run bottom of the first. Four batters into his second consecutive Opening Day assignment, Gray had not retired a batter.

Oh, he did regroup after a Jake Lamb double drove in the D-Backs first two runs, to retire the next nine batters he faced, and 12 of the next 14. That 30-pitch first-inning did, however, take a toll. After giving up a leadoff single to David Peralta and walks of A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt to open the fifth, Gray’s 2018 debut came to a premature conclusion.

It was the 13th time in 59 career starts Gray worked four or fewer innings, and it was his fifth highest pitch count – 86 pitches – among those starts. He failed to get past four innings only three times in 2017, but one of them happened to be the Rockies season-opener, as well, although the Rockies rallied to win that game 7-5 at Milwaukee.

Gray also failed to get through four innings in his third start lat year, but that was because he finally gave in to the stress fracture in his left foot, which he suffered in spring training and tried to pitch through. He worked three shutout innings at San Francisco last year but went on the disabled list the next day, and did not return to the active roster for 78 days.

But then the opening month of the season has not been kind to Gray, who is in his third season on a season-opening roster. Combining Thursday's start with the five he has made in April in previous seasons, his ERA for those six starts is more than two runs higher than any other month of the season. The first month is also the only month in which he has not earned a victory.

While Gray did have his problems on Thursday night, he had won his first two regular-season starts at Bank One Park, and among NL parks his 3.71 regular season ERA at Chase Field is his fourth lowest in an NL Park. He has, however, not pitched in either Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati or Wrigley Field in Chicago.

That three-run first inning? Well, Gray is a slow starter. His 5.80 career ERA in the first inning is the second highest of any inning. He has a 6.12 ERA in the sixth inning. He has given up personal highs of eight home runs in both the first and sixth innings, although he did not give up a home run on Thursday. 

Gray will make three of his first four starts on the road. In addition to Thursday's game at Arizona, he is on schedule to start Wednesday in San Diego, and April 14 in Washington. He is, however, on line to make a start at Coors Field on April 8 against the Braves. And Gray has shown a comfort zone at Coors Field. His ERA is only a tad higher at home than on the road, which is a strong statement of his comfort at home, and a key reason that he is 12-4 at Coors Field compared to 8-13 on the road.