Gray Times Three Shows Maturation of Rockies Right-Hander
Jon Gray wants to be the ace of the Rockies rotation.
He welcomed those starts on Opening Day the last two years.
He embraced the chance to start the wild-card game at Arizona last October.
He also knows he has to earn those opportunities, and that’s why his last three starts are so important.
For the third time in three big-league seasons, this year, Gray struggled in the early weeks. This year there wasn’t the explanation of a broken foot that he tried to pitch through last year. It wasn’t being a late-April insertion into the rotation with rookie jitters that could be blamed.
This time it was frustrating because this time Gray felt ready to step to the head of the class, but he stumbled at the start. While he did enjoy a 2-1 victory at San Diego in his second start it wasn't a time to celebrate. His log for the first five starts of the season were concerning.
"I knew I was better than that," said Gray. "I knew I had to be better than that."
Slow, Painful Beginning
What Gray knew is now public knowledge. He has rebounded in his last three starts to be the dominant rotation ace the Rockies envisioned, underscored by the seven shutout innings he posted against the Angels in Tuesday's 4-2 victory at Coors Field.
He did have to pitch out of a bases-loaded challenge in the first, when, with two out, Justin Upton and Albert Pujols singled, and Andrelton Simmons worked a full-count walk. Gray came back, on a 3-2 pitch, to strike out Zack Cosart.
"The first inning was shaky," manager Bud Black said, "but he worked his way through it, and got Cozart to end the inning (with a slider). That's a big pitch he has worked on the last couple of weeks. He needs that pitch. I thought he gained confidence as the game went on."
After giving up two hits and a walk in the first inning, Gray allowed only two more base runners in his final six innings -- a one-out single by Martin Maldonado in the fifth and leadoff single by Simmons in the seventh.
Gray was particularly impressive after the Simmons hit. He induced ground outs from Cozart, and highly-touted rookie Shohei Ohtani, and a fly ball to left field from Maldonado.
It is, said Gray, a confidence that has been growing over the last three starts, in which he has wins over the Padres and Angels, at Coors Field, with a victory against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in between. He's not only 3-0 in those starts, but has allowed one run in 10 hits and three walks in 20 innings.
"It has been more of a mindset," said Gray. "I have not changed a lot physically."
And each time out the mindset gets stronger.
"I wish I had started out this way, but I am glad with what I have done," he said. "I feel like I can take the right step when I meet an obstacle. I know I can comeback from being crappy and be good again."
Turnaround Times Three
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Gray said it is a matter of pride on the part of the five members of the Rockies, and they feed off the success of each other.
"We always want to out do each other," he said. "It makes us better, competing against each other. It's a positive competition."
It's not about wanting to see other pitches fail, but rather to succeed and raise the bar of expectation each time out. That's certainly been the case in the last two weeks.
Building Off Each Start