Rockies Look for Gray to Build off Strong Finish to Philly Disappointment

In the aftermath of the Rockies 5-4 loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday night, Jon Gray, who saw three of the four walks he issued turned into runs, made an honest admission that pitching coach Steve Foster confirmed is a critical sign in Gray's learning curve. 

"I don't want to go out there thinking about my body. Just pitch and compete," Gray said. "Early on, I wasn't trusting that I was going to get the ball out and be on time. Once I stopped worrying about it, it was easier. If I can do that all game next game, it's going to be all better. We're going to be in a good spot."

Presto.

Gray was thinking about what he has been working on in the bullpen in between starts. It's designed to keep him more consistent with his delivery and more dominant in the results.

That's for the days between starts.

Not the days he is starting.

"When you are on the mound, it is about competing," said Foster. "Darren (Holmes, bullpen coach) and I have a saying, `It's repeat, repeat, repeat (your mechanics) in the bullpen or warm-ups,' but when you are on the mound it's about compete."

It sounds simple. But it isn't, at least not for a pitcher who has not performed up to the level he has proven he is capable of performing. And right now, that's Gray. 

This was going to be his breakthrough season. The Rockies first-round draft choice in 2013 -- the third player taken overall -- Gray came off the disabled list on June 30 last year, and went 10-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 17 starts.

Even pitching at Coors Field didn't bother him. He was 5-1 with a 3.32 ERA at home compared to 5-3 with a 3.77 ERA on the road. He was so solid that he drew the starting assignment for the Rockies in the wild-card game against the Diamondbacks, and then was named the Rockies Opening Day pitcher for the second year in a row this season.

Things haven't been the same. Gray was physically healthy from the start. The results, however, have not been. He is now 6-7 with a 5.68 ERA. He is 3-3 with a 6.45 ERA in seven starts at Coors Field, the Rockies losing Gray's no-decision, and he is now 3-4 with a 4.93 ERA on the road.

And on Tuesday he waked four, equaling the second highest walk total of his career, and the most since he made an August 12, 2016 start in Philadelphia. All four came in the first three innings. It's far from what the Rockies have come to expect from Gray, who has averaged only 2.94 walks per nine innings pitched in his big-league career.

Walk on the Wild Side

Date Opponent IP H R ER HR BB HB SO #Pit
6/22/2016 @NYY L 9-8 4 3 4 4 1 5 1 3 80
8/12/2016 @Phi L 10-6 4.1 6 7 6 1 4 0 6 111
Tuesday @Phi L 5-4 6 3 4 4 1 4 0 10 108

 "I hate putting us in a hole early," Gray said. "My teammates, they're fighting, and I really feel for them. I'm going to do everything to step up for them."

A step in that direction came in Philadelphia.

He issued a one-out walk to Rhys Hoskins and two-out walk to Carlos Santana in the bottom of the first, and then Scott Kingery turned a 1-2 fastball, down and in, into a three-run home run. then, in the third, after a walk to Santana loaded the bases, Kingery got to Gray for a sacrifice fly.

After that? Gray retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced.

The difference? Gray quit thinking. Gray started pitching.

"I don't want to go out there thinking about my body. Just pitch and compete," Gray said. "Early on, I wasn't trusting that I was going to get the ball out and be on time. Once I stopped worrying about it, it was easier. If I can do that all game next game, it's going to be all better. We're going to be in a good spot." 

Bingo.

"He did clear his mind," said Foster. "I believe it was a growth moment. If your mind is on anything other than competing in a game, you will have problems."

Foster paused. 

"Although you don't like to see the starting pitcher struggle, I do believe that can make him a better pitcher, to experience that, recognize what happened, and grow from it," said Foster. 

What Gray is capable of is apparent, even in this season.

He had a three-start stretch in late April, early May, when he did not merely run off three consecutive wins. He claimed a victory against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, in between Coors Field wins against the Padres and Angels and overmatched hitters on all three teams.

He allowed one run in 20 innings -- an Anthony Rizzo home run and that was at Wrigley Field, not Coors Field. He allowed 13 baserunners -- 10 hits and three walks -- and struck out 25. 

Everything was in place.

The key to becoming an elite pitcher, though, is handling a game where things aren't quite right.

It's about staying focused on each pitch.

It's about the way Gray pitched in those final three innings in Philadelphia.

They provided something for Gray to build on.

On Sunday afternoon in Arlington, Tex., against the Texas Rangers, Gray will get the opportunity to do just that.

Tracy RingolsbyComment