For a few minutes on Saturday night at Coors Field, it was a flashback for Jon Gray against the San Diego Padres. Memories of a dominant 16-strikeout performance Gray posted against the Padres in 2016 started popping up as the Colorado Rockies starter struck out six of the first nine batters he faced.
Gray’s line in his first turn through San Diego’s rotation was one hit allowed and six strikeouts. However, Gray would post just two more punchouts the rest of his outing while Hunter Renfroe and Wil Myers each blasted solo home runs as part of San Diego’s seven-hit barrage against Colorado’s starter after the second inning.
What was the difference between the first two-plus frames and the rest of Gray’s night?
"“I don’t think a lot,” Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black said. “I don’t know whether a lot changed. If anything, maybe the ball was elevated a bit but I thought Jon threw the ball fine. He was pretty efficient throughout the game. Slider was good. Good curveball. Fastball had velocity.“He threw pitches in the seventh inning. If our starting rotation throws pitches in the seventh inning, they’re doing a pretty good job. And Jon did that tonight.”"
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Make no mistake about it, though. Gray pitched good enough to keep the Rockies in the game. In fact, Gray’s quality start on Saturday (six innings, allowing three runs on eight hits with one walk and eight strikeouts) snapped a streak of 13 games where Rockies starters hadn’t posted a quality start.
And Gray did it, he told reporters after the game, without a great deal of confidence in his fastball.
"“My fastball was down in velo (velocity) a little bit. I recognized that pretty early. But the spin was there. The spin was really good and I threw some good changeups,” Gray said. “It’s night and day from last year. I feel like I have something I can go to and last year I didn’t have it. Now everything is working. It’s just about getting outs and not leaving stuff middle.”"
It was location, Gray confirmed, that did him in on the pitches to Myers and Renfroe. It’s the same issue that has haunted Colorado’s entire rotation throughout the first 39 games of the season.
But after the Rockies offense scored 12 runs in two consecutive games, Joey Lucchesi and the San Diego bullpen kept Colorado off-balance at the plate for the majority of the night. Charlie Blackmon tied the game in the eighth with a solo homer before the Padres took advantage of Wade Davis’ wildness in the ninth to score the winning run.
Back to Gray though, his line will show that he tied a season-high in hits allowed (eight) and homers surrendered (two). He also walked just one batter (the first batter of the game) and went six innings for the first time in his last three starts (but his sixth time in nine total starts this season).
So did he take another step forward tonight with mixing pitches and being effective with secondary pitches?
"“If you look at my pitching line, probably no. If you look at the game, yeah. I just missed a few spots,” Gray lamented."