Signs point to Gray for opener
The Rockies’ de facto ace appears lined up to begin the season nextweek at Milwaukee.
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