No Gray Area for Rockies Jon Gray, a Rotation Ace in the Making

Jon Gray is a baseball enigma.

When he is good, he is very, very good.

And when he is bad, . . . Well, the Rockies did leave him off the post-season roster.

It, however, is not because the Rockies have given up on Gray. To the contrary, they very much believe Gray is a part of the long-term plan. Truth be known, they still feel is has the physical ability to emerge as the ultimate No. 1.

“The stuff is 70-yard passes,” Rockies pitching coach Steve Foster said. “The stuff is cross patterns. It’s great. It’s a plus slider. It’s a plus velocity fastball. It’s a good enough curveball to keep that variation and keep guys off the baseball. It’s a changeup that some days is above average, and useable, and gets soft contract

“So all those things grade out and you go, `Wow. We’ve got something special.’ And we do, we do. I believe in this guy.”

It’s that belief that keeps Foster looking for the key to unlock Gray’s potential.

“You can stand out on a football field, and see a guy can throw a football 70 yards, and hit a guy on a crossing pattern. But you put defenders out there, someone wrapping around his ankles. ... … There are a lot of variables that go into being great. Sometimes it takes a little time.”

This is proving to be one of those times.

Gray has been one of the bigger frustrations of the Rockies. They see the dominant pitcher, but then they see him disappear for starts at a time, struggling to get through innings.

The one game that epitomizes Gray’s career was a start against the Rangers in Texas on June 17 last season. Gray took the mound in the bottom of the sixth with a 5-1 lead. Five batters later, Gray was history, and the Rangers were leading 6-5. Each of the first five Rangers batters reached base, capped off by a Jurickson Profar three-run home run that put the Rangers ahead.

“I remember that game well,” said Foster, who grew up in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. “I had people (at the game). He’s dominating. We’re playing well, and it turned into disaster. … It happened in Washington (April 14) as well. We’re in the middle innings. It’s two out, and then comes a gap shot, a bloop and a blast. Just like that it goes (from 2-1 Rockies) to 5-2.”

That’s the puzzle.

Gray takes it to extremes.

Break his 2018 season into five segments – two good and three bad.

He put together three consecutive starts April 25-May 8 in which he was 3-0 with a 0.45 ERA, allowing one run in 20 innings, and striking out 25 while walking only three.

Then, after a two-start refresher course at Triple-A Albuquerque just before the All-Star Break, he returned for a seven-start stretch in which the team went 7-0 and he was 3-0 with a 2.59 ERA. He struck out 43 batters and walked 10 in 48 2/3 innings – just shy of seven innings a start.

“Domination,” said Foster.

In those three other stretches, however he was a combined 6-9 in 21 starts – the Rockies going 8-13 – with a 7.21 ERA.

“Those are the things that, as coaches, we discuss openly,” said Foster. “We teach and train. No different with Kyle Freeland, German Marquez than Jon Gray. It’s the same teaching and training that those guys get, but Jon hasn’t been able to hold it for a sustained period of time. That’s what we hope for, sustained over a full season, over two full seasons, not 10 games of domination and five games of awful.

“The consistency part could be with the emotional control. I’ve seen growth in German Marquez and Kyle Freeland in those two areas. I’ve watched it before my very eyes. Same teaching and training, same coaches, and the players understand and they are able to apply it to the game. Whereas with Jon, there’s still some growth that’s necessary. We’re not there yet.”

No Gray Area W-L Team ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO Avg #Pit P/IP
March 29-April 20 1-4 1-4 7.09 5 26.2 36 22 21 4 8 24 .319 438 16.4
April 25-May 8 3-0 3-0 0.45 3 20 10 1 1 1 3 25 .147 296 14.8
May 13-June 28 3-3 4-5 7.35 9 45.1 62 38 37 6 18 70 .318 841 18.6
July 14-August 22 3-0 7-0 2.59 7 48.2 32 16 14 5 10 43 .186 673 13.8
August 27-Sept. 29 2-2 3-4 7.11 7 31.2 40 25 25 11 13 21 .310 552 17.4
Season 12-9 18-13 5.12 31 172.1 180 102 98 27 52 183 .266 2800 16.3
The Good 6-0 10-0 2.66 10 68.2 42 17 15 6 13 68 969 14.1
The Bad 6-9 8-13 7.21 21 103.2 138 85 83 21 39 115 1,831 17.7

Foster and Holmes, however, aren’t waving a white flag, and neither is Gray. He feels the same frustration as the coaches. At season’s end, he talked about the inconsistency and made mention of being ill, pointing to the loss of more than 20 pounds during the season. He, however, never was actually physically hurt. It could be someone came up with a diet that was “supposed” to give Gray flexibility, but turned out to take away durability.

Foster is a strong believer that Gray will take a major step forward.

“The guy has a great work ethic,” said Foster. “He wants to be the best. The guy has fire and energy at times on the mound. Where it is good emotion. But being able to slow the game down and live in the moment, live in this pitch, not that pitch, not the two pitches before, it’s easy to say. It’s hard to do. …

“Mental toughness is something Jon has shown me. He’s got it. But the consistency with the emotional part of it, there’s still some growth to be done.”

It’s more a mental growth, than physical.

“The greatest in the world of sport have the fight in them that others have trouble relating to. When you are an athlete, you feel it . . . Does Tom Brady have that fight in him? You bet he does. The sucker hates losing more than anyone I’ve ever seen in my life.

“But at some point, when he’s the backup quarterback at the University of Michigan, and not playing at all, sitting back, waiting for his time? . . . He finally got that time, and he had that emotional control when he was in there to balance it out and say, ‘Not only am I great. I’m going to be the greatest to ever play this game.’ Jon Gray has that ability to be one of the greatest. The stuff is there. The body is there. The desire is there. It’s all coming.”

The question is when it will arrive.

That’s something only Gray can control.

Tracy RingolsbyComment