Learning curve

Gray makes adjustments too late in rocky pro debut

Jon Gray, the Colorado Rockies’ No. 1 draft pick in June, delivers a pitch Wednesday in his debut with the Grand Junction Rockies at Suplizio Field. Gray struggled in his first professional game, allowing four runs on seven hits in three innings, striking out one. The Rockies rallied after Gray departed, scoring nine runs in the third inning to defeat Billings 10-6.

Jon Gray would love to do it all over again with what he learned in his first two innings.

“I’m glad it’s over, but as much as I’d like to go back and redo it, it’s over, out of the way, it’s time to start off to better things,” the first-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies said Wednesday night after his professional pitching debut.

Gray had trouble adjusting to the mound at Suplizio Field, saying he felt his lead foot was hitting the ground while his right arm was still in the air during the first two innings.

Once he adjusted, though, he showed everyone what they came to see in a seven-pitch third inning. He was his own worst critic, even though the coaches were more than happy with what they saw.

“Not very good, not very good at all. It took me too long to adjust to everything,” Gray said of his 40-pitch, three-inning debut in the Rockies’ 10-6 victory over Billings. “That’s the first time I’ve thrown off that mound and I had to adjust to it. It was a little flatter than I thought it was going to be and I was leaving everything up in the zone.

“It was the third inning before I started figuring it out and by that time I was being taken out of the game. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t figure it out earlier. It’s a learning experience. It’s only going to make me better.”

Gray did exactly what he was supposed to do, throwing his fastball and change-up for strikes. His fastball was up in the zone early, but he said that’s an adjustment he’ll make before his next start Monday night at Suplizio.

“I only threw nine balls tonight, but it’s where (the strikes) were,” he said. “It’s all about location.”

Once he found that location, he was a different pitcher.

“You saw his ball in the third inning, when he gets the ball in the bottom half of the strike zone, the movement changes, just all on its own,” pitching coach Ryan Kibler said. “I think he showed you in the third inning he sees it. We’ve already chatted about it and he sees it. He gets the ball down a little bit it’s a completely different story.”

Gabriel Rosa hit Gray’s first pitch up the middle for a ground-ball base hit, and the Mustangs touched him for three runs in the first inning.

He allowed one unearned run in the second, but in the third got a fly ball that Jordan Patterson caught in foul territory in right. Two ground-outs around a single wrapped up his night.

“I just stopped thinking about my mechanics so much. I just said ‘OK, I’m going to keep this pitch low, keep this pitch low,’ and in the third inning I started getting ground balls,” Gray said. “That’s how a starting pitcher survives. That’s the adjustment I made, I just made it too late.”

The Rockies, who lead the Pioneer League in hitting (.306) and runs scored (154), picked up Gray with a nine-run third inning.

“We didn’t come out and expect him to throw a no-hitter,” said first baseman Correlle Prime, who went 2 for 5 with a home run and three RBI. “This is his first start of his pro career. Probably nerves were running high, there were a lot of fans out here. I thought he handled himself well.”

Gray allowed four runs on seven hits, had one strikeout and didn’t walk a batter. He reached 98 mph and was consistently in the mid to upper 90s. Gray also stuck with the plan of throwing his change-up and fastball.

“I only threw one slider today, maybe two, but I threw my change-up well. I just left the fastball up,” he said.

He did miss throwing his slider, though.

“It was kind of hard, I felt like I had to fight with one hand, but it’s something that’s going to make me better,” Gray said. “It’s something I know I can pull out when I want. I really need to focus on fastball, change-up.”

Kibler said Gray will have a longer leash Monday, probably 60-70 pitches and four innings “give or take.” Gray wanted one more inning Wednesday, but knew that wasn’t going to happen once he reached 40 pitches on a 45-pitch limit.

“I wanted to, but I knew there was a pitch count before the game, so I knew they weren’t going to let me go back out,” he said. “That just makes me more anxious to get out there next time.”


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