Sunday 4X4: Another Shade of Gray
During the final two months of the 2017 season, Jon Gray emerged as the go-to-guy in the Rockies rotation. He was 7-2 with a 2.44 ERA in his final 11 starts, a key factor in the Rockies being able to claim the second NL wild-card.
He got roughed up in the wild-card game against Arizona, but then so did Diamondbacks starter Zack Greinke.
The Rockies and Gray came into the 2018 season with every reason to feel Gray, the third player selected in the 2013 draft, to further establish himself among the game's elite pitchers. There is still plenty of time for that to happen, but in the opening month of the season Gray has struggled.
The latest example came on Saturday at Washington. For five innings, Gray was the Rockies answer to Nationals' Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. A 2-1 lead, however turned into a 6-2 loss when Gray gave up four runs while retiring only two batters in the sixth inning. Five of the six batters Gray faced in the sixth inning had base hits. Gray's day ended after Moises Sierra doubled home two runs, but was thrown out attempting to advance to third.
"I can't stress how frustrating it is to go out there and cruise and then let it all go to waste," Gray said. "I can be good 95 percent of the time but not good five percent of the time. It doesn't matter, I guess. I've got to find a way to be good right there."
The promise of last year came during the Rockies battle to hang on to a wild-card invite to the post-season. Gray asserted himself in August and September, when others wore down. In his two no-decisions, he allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings of a 6-3 loss at Miami, and he pitched five shutout innings, allowing two hits and striking out seven in a game the Padres rallied to win 4-3 at Coors Field.
In his first four starts this year, he won at San Diego on April 4, shutting the Padres out on four hits and no walks in seven innings. In the three other starts, however, he allowed 15 runs in 14 2/3 innings. That included that four-run Nationals' rally in a sixth inning that began with Gray and the Rockies leading 2-1 thanks to Charlie Blackmon's first-inning home run -- the only hit Scherzer allowed in seven innings.
"He matched (Scherzer)," Black said. "These types of games are learning experiences for Jon and other pitchers who match up against these types of great pitchers. When you go up against a guy like Scherzer, man, you've got to be on your game. And Jon was on it for five innings, and then the ball climbed up a little bit."
A concern in the first 16 games of the season has been the Rockies lack of contract. The Rockies have struck out 155 times in 16 games. That's 9.688 strikeouts a game, second to only the Phillies at 9.692 strikeouts per game, although the Phillies have played three fewer games so they have smaller strikeout total. The Rockies struck out a season-high 14 times on Saturday -- 11 in seven innings against Scherzer. It was the 11th time in 16 games the Rockies have reached double figures in strikeouts.
MLB has done something the rest of baseball hasn't been able to do. Arenado began sitting out a five-game suspension on Saturday for a bench-clearing at Coors Field on Wednesday. Big deal? Well, in the last three seasons combined, Arenado played in all but 10 games. The most games he missed in any of the last three seasons? He did not appear in five games in 2015. He also missed two in 2016, and three last season .
Shouldn't be a big surprise that the Rockies struck out a season-high 14 times on Saturday. Scherze struck out 11 batters in seven innings. He is one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. Scherzer has struck out more than 200 batters in each of the last six seasons. He is a three-time Cy Young Award winner, who led the NL in strikeouts the past two seasons.