Signs point to Gray for opener

The Rock­ies’ de facto ace ap­pears lined up to be­gin the sea­son nex­tweek at Mil­wau­kee.

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Pa­trick Saun­ders

scotts­dale, ariz. » Jon Gray is jazzed.

Not about his six- in­ning, 88- pitch ef­fort in a mi­nor- league scrim­mage on a back field here Wed­nes­day. His line was noth­ing spe­cial: four runs ( three earned), on five hits with seven strike­outs and no walks. Catch­ing prospect Dom Nuñez tagged him for a two- run homer.

Rather, what had Gray bub­bling with op­ti­mism af­ter­ward was his over­all per­for­mance this spring, which has him primed for Mon­day’s sea­son opener at Mil­wau­kee. Though man­ager Bud Black has not of­fi­cially pro­claimed Gray the open­ing- day starter, ev­ery­thing lines up for Gray to be on the mound against the

Brew­ers at Miller Park.

“I’m ready. I’ve been think­ing about it for a long time,” said Gray, who is feel­ing no ill ef­fects from a sore big toe that had lim­ited him to 2M in­nings in his last Cac­tus League start. “It’s ex­cit­ing. We are all com­pet­i­tive peo­ple, and this is ex­actly where we want to be, right there in the mid­dle of the storm.”

What pleased Gray the most about his per­for­mance Wed­nes­day was the com­mand of his usu­ally trusty slider, a pitch he has strug­gled with through­out camp.

“To­day was the first time in a while where I felt like I threwa re­ally good, con­sis­tent slider,” he said. “I started feel­ing that later in the game, and from the third in­ning on Iwas rolling. Plus my curve­ball was there for my strike­out pitch. … It was a good day.”

Catcher Tony Wol te rs, who will be be­hind the plate for Mon­day’s opener, was im­pressed.

“I think Jon thinks a lot about his slider, which is good,” Wolters said. “He wants to make it bet­ter and keep com­pet­ing with it. But he also needs to know that he has two other pitches that are plus pitches. We are just try­ing to mix it up to­day and get all of his pitches work­ing. But Iwas pleased with how he threw to­day. He’s ready.”

Gray, 25, is the Rock­ies’ de facto ace, but if Colorado is truly to con­tend with San Francisco and Los An­ge­les in the Na­tional League West, Gray has to take a big step for­ward.

He went 10- 10 with a 4.61 ERA last sea­son, strik­ing out 185 to set a fran­chise rookie record. He had mo­ments of bril­liance mixed with stretches of in­con­sis­tency. The high­light came Sept. 17 in a game against San Diego when Gray threw his first com­plete- game shutout while set­ting a Rock­ies and Coors Field record with 16 strike­outs.

To take his game to the next level, the Rock­ies be­lieve Gray needed an­other pitch to com­ple­ment his 96- 98mph fast­ball and 88 mph slider, a pitch that’s one of the best in the game when he’s com­mand­ing it. he added a curve­ball, which is de­signed to keep hit­ters off- bal­ance. Gray is find­ing his curve can be a strike­out pitch.

“I think it’s been the dif­fer­ence­maker,” he said. “This whole spring, I re­ally haven’t thrown much of my slider and I didn’t have a great feel for it most of the spring, but the curve­ball has been a great re­place­ment. And now I knowthat no mat­ter what, I’m go­ing to have that pitch. That’s good, pos­i­tive en­ergy.”

Gray opened the 2016 sea­son on the dis­abled list be­cause of an ab­dom­i­nal strain. Among his mis­sions over the win­ter were to be­come more fit and more flex­i­ble. To do that, he in­cor­po­rated Pi­lates into his work­outs. Now, his en­tire body feels bet­ter and his right arm feels stronger.

“I think I’m do­ing a re­ally good job of tak­ing care ofmy arm. I haven’t had any real arm trou­ble this whole spring train­ing,” he said. “It’s been great. I have taken bet­ter care of it in the train­ing room, get­ting mas­sages and work­ing on tight mus­cles. But it feels great and very well bal­anced.”

Rock­ies pitcher Jon Gray says he felt good about his 88- pitch ef­fortWed­nes­day dur­ing spring train­ing. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

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