SCOTTSDALE, Az. – There was no Gray area last year.
Jon Gray was either dominant – and a winner – or dominated – and a loser.
It, however, is a new year.
Gray has a new mentality.
He’s not going to let opposing hitters see him sweat. Not this year, not ever again.
He knows he is better than that inconsistency that pockmarked his 2018 season. And he is intent on proving it in 2019.
Gray took that first step in the right direction in the Rockies 4-2 exhibition loss to the Mariners on Sunday afternoon at Salt River Field. Oh, he gave up a run, but after hitting the game’s first hitter, Dee Gordon, with a pitch, he retired the next two batters, before giving up a run in the second when Ichiro Suzuki worked a four-pitch walk, stole second and scored on a Jake Fraley single.
But here’s the thing. He didn’t panic. He didn’t disintegrate. He kept going at hitters and kept making pitches. He didn’t let the Mariners see him sweat.
Big deal? Yep.
Gray admits that is one of the focal points for him this year when he tries to get rid of the bitter taste in his mouth from last year’s inconsistency, which saw him go 12-9 but also make two starts on a back-to-basics refresher course at Triple-A Albuquerque.
And he truly was one extreme or another. In those 18 games he started, and the Rockies won, Gray’s ERA was 3.12. In those 12 games he started, and the Rockies lost, Gray had 9.65 ERA.
There truly was no gray area.
“Jon is in a spot now, close to four years of service time, that it is about going out and taking the ball,” said manager Bud Black. “He’s been durable. He has a strong arm. The good thing about Jon is he knows what he has to do.
“Jon has a lot of pride in what he does. He feels at times the game got away from him and that bothers him.”
The epitome of Gray’s season came in a 13-12 loss at Texas on June 17. He had a no-decision but that didn’t make things better. For five innings, Gray was dominating. He struck out nine of 17 batters in the first five innings, striking out six of the nine in the first three innings.
He, however, never retired a batter in a five-run, game-tying sixth. A walk to the first batter and an ensuing single plus a Carlos Gonzales throwing error put Rangers on second and third. A dropped sacrifice fly scored one run and put two more runs on base. Then came a run-scoring single, and on the next pitch, which was Gray’s final pitch, Jurickson Profar homered, and the Rangers were up 6-5.
And his body language told the story. The arms flailed. His head hung. He kicked at the dirt. He let the Rangers know they had him on the ropes.
"He has to be the aggressor," said Black. He can’t let his shoulders slump, his lower lip drop when things don’t go right. He can’t “let them see me sweat.”
It, said Gray, won’t happen again.
“I showed a lot of negative body language last year when I didn’t have anything,” he said. “But (the other team) didn’t need to know that. If I don’t have a pitch, they don’t need to know it. I don’t need to let them know.”
That, said Gray, is history. He’s ready this year to make hitters fear his best stuff, even when he doesn’t have it. They might figure it out on their own, but he’s not going to tell them in advance.
“There are days you have to pitch through things,” said Gray. “You have to work your way through those days that things don’t feel right. You can’t give the game away.”
That’s become the challenge for Gray, a challenge he has accepted.