Colorado Rockies pitching prospect Jon Gray will attempt to bounce back from his first poor start in nearly two months when he takes the mound for Triple-A Albuquerque on Thursday.
Gray was charged with six runs on 11 hits and four walks in 4⅓ last Saturday in Salt Lake City. It was the first time since April 27 -- a string of 10 starts -- that the Rockies' top pitching prospect allowed more than three earned runs. One might think that all the positive goodwill Gray had been building since the start of May took a big hit with his most recent performance. That isn't the case at all, according to Albuquerque pitching coach Darryl Scott.
"Going back and reviewing the game, he didn't really pitch badly," Scott said prior to the Isotopes' series finale in Salt Lake on Monday. "There were some balls that found some holes and he made a couple mistakes while ahead in counts, but that stuff's gonna happen."
Gray did not allow a hard-hit ball until the fifth inning. The 23-year-old right-hander was beaten up pretty badly in that frame, giving up a pair of line-drive singles and back-to-back doubles as part of four-run fifth for Salt Lake. But Gray showed enough to leave Scott and Albuquerque's staff unconcerned.
"I think he competed through it well and maintained his composure despite some things that happened that were out of his control," Scott explained. That's a big difference compared to last season, which Scott spent with Gray in Tulsa.
"He didn't handle those situations as well," Scott said. "That maturity level has started to show up for him this year."
One thing that Gray could have done better in his last outing was command his fastball. He was terrific with all of his pitches -- including a heater that sat in the 94-95 mph range -- through the first two innings against the Los Angeles Angels' Pacific Coast League affiliate. But once he started dialing up the fastball to 97-98 mph, his control of the pitch began to waver.
Gray issued a total of three walks in the fourth and fifth innings after walking just one batter -- and striking out four -- in the previous three frames. The temporary loss of fastball command was a small step backward in an area that he has improved upon drastically since the beginning of 2015.
"I think he's learned when to reach back a little bit, when to pull that 98 out of the back pocket," Scott said. "About 94-95 is typically where he sits, but what is nice is he's starting to recognize when to use that 98 mph pitch and maybe elevate it."
"That's better for his development than trying to go all out all the time," Scott added.
That development is getting closer and closer to reaching the point where the Rockies will feel comfortable placing their 2013 first-round draft pick to the majors. Scott wouldn't elaborate on how close, jokingly stating that as of the time of the interview, Gray was "about eight hours or 600 miles away" from Denver. But he did leave one clue:
"We can see him telling us — rather than us telling him — when he’s ready," Scott said. "We see him moving in that direction."
That could mean that Gray will be with the Rockies soon. It could also mean that, as Walt Weiss said in a recent radio interview, Gray still has some development left.
Scott left that clue, as well.
"He's learning to deal with adversity and being pushed," Scott said. "You have to remember, there’s not too many guys in their second full season pitching at this level."