A four-batter stretch. That was the difference between winning and losing for the Colorado Rockies on Monday night at Coors Field.
With two outs in the fourth inning, the San Diego Padres turned a solid outing from Jon Gray into a nightmare, putting together a triple, double, intentional walk, home run and home run (five batters, four official plate appearances) for a stunning five-run sequence on their way to a 7-6 win in Denver.
How could a game that started with Gray striking out the side in the first and striking out two of the three batters he faced in the third go downhill so quickly? A lack of focus was the answer heard from Colorado manager Bud Black after the game.
"“Four batters changed the game around from being an electric outing to one where we’re kind of questioning some things and talking about the next steps,” catcher Chris Iannetta said. “The part for me I’ll take out of it is the first inning of that game where he was really dominating and that’s what he’s capable of doing and what we need to get out of him for six or seven innings every time out.”"
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The killer of that ugly fourth-inning sequence? An 0-1 fastball that came in belt high to San Diego pitcher Clayton Richard. He showed that anyone at the plate can take advantage of a mistake, smacking the pitch 418 feet into the right field stands for a three-run homer and stunning the crowd of 20,291.
"“A pitch up. That’s all I can say,” Gray said. “If it would’ve been down, it would have been fine. All I had to do was throw a fastball down.”"
And that’s the razor-thin difference between a harmless pitch and one that changes the complexion of the game entirely. Location hasn’t been there for Gray in two of his three starts so far this season, losing both outings against National League West rivals.
"“We have to keep the focus from pitch one to the very last pitch,” Colorado manager Bud Black said. “Locate the ball. When we talk about location and making pitches, you can’t vary from that because big league hitters will make you pay.”"
Richard did, as did San Diego second baseman Carlos Asuaje, who followed the three-run shot by the pitcher with a solo homer of his own into the right-field stands. It was suddenly 6-1 and a Rockies offense that had been struggling was forced to put some things together.
One day after getting shut out by Atlanta, however, Colorado did respond in the bottom of the fourth. A three-run rally was punctuated by Iannetta’s three-run homer, his first of the season. It was one of three homers logged by the Rockies on Monday night, marking the third time this campaign that has happened.
The loss drops the Rockies to 5-6. Gray’s line looks horrific, giving up seven runs and 10 hits in five innings as his ERA on the season ballooned to 5.63. That’s the bad news. Are you ready for the good news? Gray says things looked worse than they really were.
"“I think today I threw the ball well,” Gray said, again citing location as the issue. “We executed a lot of pitches and got a lot of soft contact. That’s what I’m trying to do every time. I can get better this week. That’s what I want to do. I don’t think we took a giant step back. I really don’t. I feel like the pitches are there. I feel like they’re sharp. For the most part, everything’s there except for the few I left up.”"
Those few pitches will cause issues, another lesson that the 26-year-old right-hander will continue to learn. It’s another step along the path for Gray, who will get his next start later this week in Washington against the Nationals.
We are constantly reminded that it’s still early in the season and that it’s hard to know anything about a team after just 11 games. However, after three starts, it’s clear that the difference between Gray being the ace most envision or facing a short and tough night on the mound is location and focus, two key assets for any pitcher, no matter his age or pedigree.