Gray builds confidence from first spring start

Potential ace overcomes two hits, hit batter to toss two scoreless frames

Gray builds confidence from first spring start

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For potential Rockies ace Jon Gray, his first inning was akin to choking down bitter medicine. Seeing the first two hitters of the spring reach on a hit and a hit batsman on Monday against the Dodgers wasn't good, but he figured it was good for him.

"At first I thought it was a bad thing," Gray said. "But I was thinking, 'This is good for me. I'm here to make pitches, anyway. Why not bring it to the next level?"

After Logan Forsythe singled and Gray hit Corey Seager, the righty escaped the first on two grounders that sandwiched a strikeout of Franklin Gutierrez. Gray also pitched a scoreless second inning, and the Rockies went on to win, 7-1, on a chilly and wet day.

Gray, 25, set a Colorado rookie record with 185 strikeouts last season, while going 10-10 with a 4.61 ERA in 29 starts. Rockies personnel said last season was all about Gray developing confidence in his front-of-the-rotation talent. This stage of spring, he is building confidence by focusing on details.

"I try not to focus on results, just to keep my head in the game. I don't get too mad, don't get too happy too," Gray said. "Just feel how everything feels with the batter in the box -- extension, backspin on the fastball. There were a lot of things I was focused on, and I saw a lot of good things."

Manager Bud Black, seeing Gray in game action for the first time, studied him throughout the day and came away understanding why the Rockies believe he has so much potential.

"Even though it's a Spring Training game, there was a presence to Jon Gray that I liked," Black said. "All day he looked focused, went through the morning in a good frame of mind. I thought he threw the ball well."

Gray can delight in a second-inning sequence, when his fastball allowed catcher Tony Wolters to throw out Andrew Toles on an attempted steal of second. Last year, runners were successful 10 of 12 times with Gray on the mound, and counting a brief trial in 2015, opposing runners have succeeded 15 of 19 times.

During the offseason, Gray said he admired Giants pitcher Johnny Cueto's various quick deliveries, and he wanted to incorporate them. A load-and-go delivery helped Wolters erase Toles.

"It was just a little quicker to the plate, with me being aware of his running," Gray said. "It's the first time I've executed [it] perfectly in the game. But it's something you do that seems like it could be easier the next time."

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.