Gray takes advantage with big opportunity in sight

With Chacin gone and De La Rosa hurt, top prospect hurls four strong innings

Gray takes advantage with big opportunity in sight

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Right-handed pitcher Jon Gray sat in front of his locker in the Rockies' clubhouse Monday morning with words flowing and the energetic bouncing of his legs increasing by the minute.

With openings materializing in the Rockies' rotation by the day, Gray was prepping for a start against the Brewers that marked the beginning of his big chance. Last time Gray, 23, felt this way was 2013, his final year at the University of Oklahoma, with word swirling that he would be one of the first players selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft.

"I kind of pushed it to the side, and all I thought about was trying to win games for my team," said Gray, selected by the Rockies third overall. "It wasn't that bad. I didn't have a special technique, just thought about what was important."

The stakes were bigger Monday, but Gray dealt with it all the same way. The Rockies' No. 1 ranked prospect by MLB.com struck out two and held an aggressive Brewers lineup to two hits in four scoreless innings. Gray threw strikes on 33 of his 44 pitches.

The showing, during which Gray touched 97 mph with a fastball but generally sat 93-95, came a day after the Rockies released veteran righty Jhoulys Chacin. And they are not sure if lefty No. 1 starter Jorge De La Rosa's troublesome left groin will allow him to be in the season-opening rotation.

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"I just do what I do, I block it out," a more-relaxed Gray said after his start. "It's something I thought about but I didn't let it eat me up."

Gray gave up a broken-bat single to Carlos Gomez to open the game. But he picked a leaning Gomez off, then struck out Scooter Gennett swinging and Ryan Braun looking. Braun managed the other hit, in the fourth.

In his last start, against the D-backs, Gray gave up his first three runs of the spring in a first-inning that saw hitters jump on fastballs early in the count. Gray adjusted in his second inning and threw two scoreless frames. The Brewers took a similar approach Monday, and Gray adjusted.

His best sequence may have been against Gomez in the fourth. Gray threw three changeups -- one that Gomez pulled to left for a long fly that veered foul. Gomez then flied to center.

"It was the first time I'd ever thrown back-to-back-to-back changeups," Gray said. "Everything was effective. I was trying to get in on him. I knew he was going to be swinging.

"I knew a couple of them [Brewers hitters] because I'd seen them play on TV. I didn't scout them, but we talked about what they were going to do, how aggressive their lineup was and when they were going to swing in different counts."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page, Thomas Harding and Friends at www.Rockies.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.