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Jon Gray's MLB debut a sneak peek into the future

The highly anticipated MLB debut of the Rockies No. 1 overall prospect was unspectacular, but it was still really exciting.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

It's been a long road since Grand Junction.

"It sure has," says Jon Gray after his MLB debut in which he tossed four innings, gave up two earned runs, struck out four batters, and walked two.


But hidden inside what would be an otherwise mundane stat line was a glimpse into what makes Jon Gray special.

It began, as it always does for Gray, with nerves.

His first professional outing in Grand Junction -- and subsequent first games after call-ups -- foretold the story of his MLB debut.

The first thing he said to me after that three inning, three run start three years ago was about his nerves, and it was no different Tuesday night in Denver with actual press asking questions.

"It took me a while to settle down. I was a little disappointed in the first inning," he said.

One of the best days of his young life and it isn't hard to imagine what a relief it is for him to just have it be over. I can't imagine the Mothra sized butterflies frenzied pace inside his stomach in his first inning under the light -- in the show.

It should be noted that he almost worked through the nerves with no damage.

His first breaking pitch -- a slider to Nelson Cruz -- induced an ugly swing from a big-time hitter. Cruz became Gray's first Major League strike-out victim. It was a turning point, Gray said, as well as a confidence boost.

He regularly touched 96 mph on his fastball in the first, "I saw some sevens in there, too," said catcher Nick Hundley, "don't short him one."

"He's a prototypical power pitcher," said manager Walt Weiss. " He establishes the fastball. He certainly looked comfortable throwing his fastball, tonight."

Gray worked quickly and retired two of the first three hitters he faced in convincing fashion. But it was on the strength of his stuff. The command wasn't there.

The heavy tail on his fastball -- which he grips the same way as his straight fastball -- worked to his advantage when he missed with it up-and-in on righties or away from lefties. But it worked against him in the first when it hovered into the middle of the plate and he was tagged for three hits and two runs.

Either way, he was missing with it in the first, and one did not need him to admit it in the post-game in order to see it was nerve induced at least in part.

"I just told myself to stay back, settle the nerves. It was really difficult doing it pitch to pitch."

Right, because once you are telling yourself to stay calm on every pitch, it is already too late.

Gray cruised through the second on nine pitches.

"I really settled in. Definitely grew in confidence once I started throwing [the slider] for a strike. I had to lock in on the glove."

He locked in quite well. After a 33 pitch first innings, Gray threw 44 in the next three innings combined.

"That was a very positive part of the outing," said Weiss. "He had to labor a bit in the first and really settled in. He looked comfortable after that. He looked like he was in control. I thought he handled himself very well."

Gray surrendered an unearned run in the fourth. Jesus Sucre advanced two bases on a Jose Reyes double-up attempt-turned-error at first that ricocheted off Sucre's butt and left the field of play.

To be fair, Gray did allow the opposing pitcher to drive in the run with two outs. To be even more fair, there is no way a catcher scores on that hit to Carlos Gonzalez from second base, so even a one-base error and Gray likely escapes damage.

And that was the end of his night.

"I felt like I had a lot more," he said, "I don't know if it was just the adrenaline but I felt I could go a lot longer."

Gray understands why he came out when he did, though.

"There's always that competitive side. But you have to trust the coaches. They know what they're doing. I'm all about it. But there's definitely that fighting side that wants to go back out."

We look forward to seeing more of that side for the rest of the season.

Hundley is already peering into that future:

"His stuff is off the charts. The ball jumps out of his hand. You could see it in the bullpen. I noticed how much life it had, how much finish he puts on the ball. Next time out he'll have more command of the fastball just based on not as much straight adrenaline which is part of the human element of this game, part of the human experience which makes it awesome."

An important message from a wise man.

"Nick's the best I've ever thrown to," Gray said of his catcher. "He knows what he is doing back there, anything he puts down I can trust."

Hundley had one other thing to "put down" -- a message to all his young and talented pitchers: "They didn't get to the big leagues for no reason. Put your skills out against the best people in the world and see where you stand."

The Gray era has begun.

Oh, and other people played in the game. The Rockies lost 10-4.