Gray endures second straight rocky start

Right-hander allows seven runs, six earned, in loss to Phillies

Gray endures second straight rocky start

PHILADELPHIA -- A couple weeks ago, Rockies rookie right-hander Jon Gray saw the first big games of his career as an opportunity. Now they're simply a challenge.

Gray struggled for a second straight start Friday. The Phillies bested him for seven runs, six earned, in 4 1/3 innings, and chased him on Ryan Howard's grand slam, as the Rockies fell, 10-6.

The struggle came on the heels of Gray giving up eight runs in 3 2/3 innings Sunday at home in a loss to the Marlins.

The Rockies are 4-8 in their last 12, but only twice has the starter not lasted at least five innings. Both of those belong to Gray (8-6), the third overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.

In the first start of this rough stretch, which began with the Rockies in close proximity of a National League Wild Card spot, Gray held the Dodgers to no runs on two hits in five innings of a 7-3 victory on Aug. 2. But in the last two, he has had problems finishing off hitters and the pitch count has been elevated.

"It's been really frustrating," Gray said. "I hope these guys around me don't lose confidence in me. I'm going to do everything I can to be that guy again. I hope they believe that I'll make it back, because I know I will."

Gray labored from the start. Cesar Hernandez led off the first for the Phillies and ran Gray's pitch count to 13, then finished the marathon with a triple. Hernandez walked in the second and struck out in the fifth, and forced Gray to throw him a total of 34 pitches.

Gray tends to struggle early. He has a 6.21 ERA in the first two innings, during which he has given up 29 of his 60 total earned runs. But because of the first of Rockies' leadoff man Charlie Blackmon's three homers and some patient at-bats of their own, Gray entered the bottom of the fifth with the game tied at 3.

After a walk to Odubel Herrera, an Aaron Altherr single and a Maikel Franco fielder's choice on which Altherr was safe at second (a call that stood on replay), Gray faced Howard, who had grounded to second base twice. Another such grounder would have ended the inning on double play. Even with Gray in triple figures on pitches, Rockies manager Walt Weiss expected damage to be avoided or at least limited.

"I'm going to let him try to get through that inning on his own, until he gives up a run," Weiss said. "Unfortunately, they got four with one swing."

Gray said in hindsight he should have not gone with the fastball vs. Howard. But he also said if he'd kept the pitch up, the Phillies' first baseman wouldn't have been able to swat a no-doubter over the right-center wall.

The right-hander thinks the action on all his pitches was fine, but the results were not.

The number of foul balls was reminiscent of some of Gray's starts early in the season, before he began putting away hitters better.

"It makes it tough," he said. "The only reason they're fouling off is I must be doing something on my end that's allowing them to do it. I'm not throwing the slider as hard as I used to. It doesn't have the same angle. That's what I'm looking forward to fix."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.