Gray Brightens Rockies Outlook for Stretch Drive
Jon Gray was rushed back into the Rockies rotation a night early.
It was a blessing.
Jon Gray pitched like JON GRAY. The Rockies picked up a game on the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card race, now sitting just a half game back of the No. 2 spot, and more importantly, he provided a night off for the bulk of the bullpen.
September call-ups Harrison Musgrave and DJ Johnson worked an inning apiece after Gray was dominant for the first seven innings in a 10-1 Rockies victory against Philadelphia.
Real BIG deal.
Gray was supposed to return to the rotation Tuesday night after being pushed back from his regularly scheduled start Friday. Tyler Anderson, however, developed shoulder soreness, and was scratched from his scheduled start on Monday.
To fill the start on Tuesday, the Rockies are going with a basic bullpen approach, led by Chad Bettis, who opened the season in the rotation but was moved to the bullpen after an Aug. 12 start, and has worked only 8 1/3 innings in seven relief appearances since. He last worked on Sept. 13.
With that in mind, it was imperative that Gray make a statement on Monday to put the Rockies in position to win on Tuesday.
Gray did his part.
The plan is for Bettis to throw between 30 and 50 pitches, which would likely get him through three or four innings. Then it will be a parade from the bullpen, which got a good night of rest on Monday, meaning manager Bud Black will be able to look at inning-by-inning matchups, knowing that he has the backend of the bullpen lined up with Scott Oberg, Seunghwan Oh, Jake McGee, Scott Russin, Adam Ottavino and Wade Davis all are rested.
There was a moment of concern in the first inning. But with the bases loaded, Gray came up with a three-pitch strikeout of Aaron Altherr to wrap up a 29-pitch first inning. From that point, however, Gray was economical and dominant. He threw only 76 pitches in the next six innings combined, throwing 13 or fewer in five of the six innings.
“It was a big boost for Jon, for sure,” said manager Bud Black. “It was a confidence-builder for Jon. … From that point (after the first inning) his pitch count was down. A key was Jon’s ability to go seven innings and set us up (for Tuesday).”
It also was key for Gray’s confidence. In his three starts before being given a break between starts, Gray worked a total of 10 innings – back-to-back four-inning struggles, and then a two-inning, seven-run effort against the Dodgers, which was his shortest non-injury-related start as a big-league pitcher.
Gray Puts the Struggles Behind Him
|Totals ERA 6.88||1||1||17||19||13||13||6||12||1||18||334|
All of that became history with Gray’s effort against the Phillies.
“I felt more myself,” Gray said. “I was more aggressive, attacking. I let my body react naturally. It got to the point where it was just me and the guy in the box, and me thinking, `I’m going to get you out.”
More often than not, Gray did get the hitter out.
In the last six innings of his seven-inning effort, he retired 18 of 20 batters, twice getting double plays immediately after a runner reached. The only Philadelphia player who got past first base in Gray’s final six innings was Rhys Hoskins, who ended the shutout bid with a leadoff home run in the seventh.
“Gave him a lead and he stayed on the pedal,” said Black. “He didn’t slow down.”
Now the Rockies need to keep the pedal to the metal in the next six days.
They have three games remaining against both the Phillies, who are in a fast fade into oblivion after shaking up the NL East earlier in the season, and the Nationals, a team that last October fired manager Dusty Baker for winning back-to-back division titles and now is struggling to finish .500.
The Phillies were two games out of first when the month of September began. They are 6-16 since, and are now 10 games out.
It has been a team-wide dive.
Aaron Nola, considered a Cy Young candidate with a ledger of 16-6, 2.45 for the season, is 1-3 with a 4.60 ERA in five September starts. The bullpen has only had five save opportunities, converting three of them.
Wilson Ramos (.313) is the only regular hitting better than .269.
The Nationals, meanwhile, haven’t even been within seven games of first place in the NL East since Aug. 12. A franchise that won four division titles in the last six years, the Nationals go into Tuesday one game above .500, working to avoid a losing season for the first time in seven years.
Of the 10 pitchers who have started for the Nationals in their last 39 games, only two have a winning record. Stephen Strasburg is 3-0, and Austin Voth has won the only game he has started in that stretch.