Jon Gray Shows Growth in First 2016 Outing
Jon Gray may still be searching for his first win as a member of the Colorado Rockies, but Gray earned something maybe much important long-term than a win on Friday night at Coors Field. He earned additional confidence and kudos from his manager after bouncing back a tumultuous first inning.
Gray, Colorado’s first-round draft pick out of the University of Oklahoma in 2013, struck out 10 in five innings of work in Colorado’s 7-5 decision over the Los Angeles Dodgers. With the strikeouts, Gray became just the fourth rookie to post double-digit punchouts in a game at Coors Field.
That was the good news for Gray on Friday night. However, there were some troubling moments as well. In all, he gave up seven hits and five runs in his five innings. The 24-year-old right-hander quickly fell behind to open the game, surrendering a leadoff triple to Chase Utley before Corey Seager launched a two-run home run over the center field wall to give the visitors a 2-0 lead. One out later, Adrian Gonzalez blasted a 2-2 pitch into the second deck of right field, ballooning the Los Angeles lead to 3-0.
But from that point on is where the 2016 version of Jon Gray showed his mettle. Last season, Gray had an 8.00 ERA in the first inning and a 10.38 ERA in the second. The tough starts might’ve rattled him. This year, following a rough two innings, Gray settled down and retired the next six batters, not allowing another hit until Yasiel Puig recorded a one-out single in the fourth.
“You don’t really have a choice. You stay out there and get rocked or buckle down so I did my best to keep us in the game,” Gray said. “I felt a little funny at first but after I decided I wasn’t going to let it happen any more, I felt a lot better. I had a ton of confidence in my pitches and the defense behind me.
“It was pretty tough, especially first game of the year. I was looking for some early success but when something like that happens in the first inning, it’s pretty bad. I was glad to stay in there and battle through it.”
Helping Gray battle through his adversity was a slider that Colorado manager Walt Weiss said was among the best he had ever seen Gray throw.
“His slider was filthy,” Weiss said. “He ended up going to his slider and that’s where a lot of his punchouts came. That’s as good of a slider as I have seen from him. It was disappearing. It was real hard and sharp late. It was a nice in-game adjustment he made.”
“Slider was awesome tonight,” Gray added. “I’ve always felt really good with that pitch. I have a ton of conviction in it and I think I can throw it in any count. It’s my go-to (pitch).”
Weiss was impressed to see how Gray settled in after giving up the early lead.
“I thought he did a great job. He could’ve went the other way after that first inning but he stayed the course, hung in there, didn’t get flustered whatsoever, and threw the ball really well after that,” Weiss said. “I was really proud of him. For his first time out there this year, I thought he did an outstanding job. That game could’ve gotten sideways on him but he settled back in. ”
Part of the requirement for pitching at Coors Field is having to pitch through adversity and understand that an inflated ERA is very possible. Weiss believes Gray has the mental makeup to fight through rough innings in LoDo.
“No question about that. That’s what we talk about. It’s from the neck up with our pitchers,” Weiss said. “You have to be a tough guy to pitch here. Jonny showed that tonight.”
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With his first 2016 start out of the way, Gray now will look for improvement in his scheduled start on Wednesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The first win will come but the mental lessons that Gray has learned on his way to earning it will pay off in the long run, both for the young pitcher and the Rockies.