MESA, Ariz. -- Jon Gray is undergoing a makeover.
And it’s not just a change in his hairstyle – which he was sporting on Friday when he worked three perfect innings, striking out three, against the A’s.
The mohawk was more a matter of salvaging a bad decision he made, when he initially clipped his locks last week.
“I chopped it and it looked horrible,” said Gray. “I thought, `I can’t do this,’ so (Thursday) UI decided let’s shave it down to a Mohawk. My wife was shocked when I got home, but we’ll let it ride from there.”
That was the easy part for Gray, who was noted for his flowing locks. Two years ago, in fact, he chopped off six inches and donated them to the charity Locks of Love, which creates hair pieces for cancer patients.
The real challenge comes on the mound, where Gray is faced with finding a consistency that will allow him to emerge as the dominant force the Rockies envisioned when they selected him with the third pick overall in the 2013 first-year draft.
It’s an ability he has shown, but not consistently. There is no gray area when he is on the mound, which was underscored last year. He was 12-9 with a 5.12 ERA and despite a two-start, mid-season stint at Triple-A Albuqeruque.
The Rockies were 18-13 in his 31 starts. That’s not too shabby. It’s right in line with the Rockies top two starters – Kyle Freeland, who saw the Rockies win 23 of his 33 starts, and German Marquez, who saw the Rockies go 19-14 in his starts. They were 11-9 when Chad Bettis Starters, only 12-20 in Tyler Anderson’s starts, and won Jeff Hoffman’s lone start, in which he allowed three runs in 3 1/3 innings.
So what’s all the fuss? Simple. In the 18 games he started and the Rockies won he had a 3.12 ERA. In the 13 games he started and the Rockies loss he had a 9.05 ERA.
In other words, when he was good he was really good, but there was no salvation in the games he lost.
The consistency was missing. And that has been the focus for Gray in the off-season.
There was an issue of a 25-pound, in-season weight loss, which Gray said wasn’t planned, but happened.
“I’ve always been a guy who gained weight during the season, but not last year,” he said. “I put my weight back on during the winter, and everything is normal.”
And then there is the bigger issue – the consistency on the mound.
It’s not a physical issue. It’s not about ability or stuff. It’s about Gray’s push for perfection.
Face it, Gray set a franchise record on Sept. 17, 2016 when he struck out 16 and didn’t walk a batter. He’s the only pitcher in franchise history to have three games in which he struck out 12 or more batters, and in 89 games he has struck out 10 or more 12 times. That’s the second most in franchise history to Pedro Astacio, who had 15 double-figure strikeout games in 129 starts.
Astacio, who is in spring training working with pitchers on the minor league side, has a theory about pitching at Coors Field – or anywhere else – which simplifies things for Gray.
“To not allow the next run,” said Astacio. “They don’t take runs off the board. You just focus on not allowing the next run.”
Makes sense, said Gray.
And it’s an approach he knows he needs to embrace.
“You don’t like giving up runs, but you can’t let it frustrate you when you give one up,” said Gray. “Once the run has scored you have no control over that, but you can control what the next batter does. You can’t control what happened.”
And no, it is not a Coors Field thing.
His numbers, in fact, are better at Coors Field than other parks.
A year ago, he was 7-4 with a 4.91 ERA in 16 Coors Field starts, and the Rockies won 10 of those games. On he road, he was 5-5 with a 5.34 ERA in 15 starts, the Rockies winning eight of those games. And those numbers have pretty much held true during his career. The Rockies are 44-45 all-time in Gray’s starts, but the Rockies are 26-17 at Coors Field compared to 18-28 on the road in Gray’s starts.
“It is a matter of my focusing on the next pitch,” said Gray.
He certainly had no problems against an A’s lineup on Friday.
“Jon looked great,” said bench coach Mike Redmond, who ran the club with manager Bud Black away for the birth of his first granddaughter. “He threw all his pitches. It is fun to see him pitch with confidence and mixing in some breaking balls.”
Nobody enjoys it more than Gray.