Jon Gray was a 10-game winner for the Colorado Rockies in 2017, coming just one victory short of tying the team lead for the year despite missing 2.5 months of the season with a foot injury. His .714 winning percentage (10-4) led the starting rotation by a wide margin and his 3.67 ERA was a career best by nearly a full point.

So, how does the budding ace improve on last year? Being healthy is step one.

In an interview with Eric Goodman and Les Shapiro of Mile High Sports AM 1340 | FM 104.7 at Talking Stick Resort near the Rockies’ Spring Training facility, Gray outlined what he’s working on this spring compared to last year.

“Last year was tough. I had the broken foot early on,” Gray said. “I had to throw a lot of bullpens with a big boot on just to get ready to come back in time. It kind of made it tough on my mechanics to do that. I feel like this year I’ve got a more sturdy delivery and it’s just going to clean up everything. If I’ve got a good delivery, it will fix a lot of my pitches.”

Had Gray pitched a full season (30-plus starts instead of just 20) last year, he could have flirted with 20 wins, based on his win percentage. That would be an impressive number, but a more realistic next step would be for him to reach the 15-win plateau. Shapiro asked Gray how he can get there.

“I think a lot of it comes with getting outs early,” Gray replied. “I need to get deeper into games. When I am on that night, I want to make it to the seventh, eighth, ninth inning if I can — not just stop at six. There’s a lot that goes into it. But that’s the thing I think of first, just getting quick outs and working really fast.”

Even if Gray does stop at six innings, he’ll have plenty of help from a strong bullpen that boasts the MLB innings leader over the past five years, Bryan Shaw, and a three-time (running) All-Star in Wade Davis.

Gray knows that in his third full season in the majors, he has to be honest with himself as games and the season wear on — even if that means swallowing his pride and turning the ball over to the bullpen.

“That could be tough because sometimes you feel like Superman, but you may not have anything left in the tank. So, you could be making a bad decision. You just have to be really smart about it. If it’s a guy that I don’t fare very well against and I’m feeling really gassed, I’m probably going to tell the coach, ‘This guy’s got a better shot than I do.’ In my mind, I think I can beat him, but not in all cases that happens. So, you have to be very careful with it.”

Barring another injury, Gray will be the Rockies’ Opening Day starter for the second year in a row. He’s bordering on becoming the bona fide ace — 15-plus wins would certainly put him in that conversation — the Rockies believed he could be when they drafted him third overall in 2013.

“I feel like every time I take the ball I have a good chance to win no matter who’s on the the other side. That’s just the mindset I like to take in,” Gray said.

But he’s not alone. Colorado is stacked with talented young starters challenging Gray for his spot atop the rotation.

“A lot of our younger guys, too, have the same mindset. They’re definitely not scared,” Gray said. “They want to take the ball at Coors Field and throw against the best teams. It’s a good thing.”

At just 26 years old, Gray is one of the elder statesmen in the Rockies starting rotation. That creates an interesting mentorship dynamic, where he is still leaning on others for guidance but at the same time offering help when he can to others coming up in the game.

“Baseball is just a game where I’m going to be a student for as long as I play it. I’m going to learn new stuff every year, every day, if I do things right,” Gray said. “I’m always trying to grab information from whoever it may be — maybe an older, veteran pitcher [or] someone older on the team. I can take advice from them because they’ve had a lot of success; they’ve done a lot of things right. So, if I see a young guy struggling with something I know how to get out of, or I know something that may help, I will say it. Because it could take something small for someone, but it could click with them and they could grab it and run.”

Gray is expected to take the ball and run with it on March 29 when the Rockies open their season in Arizona. He’ll hope to last longer than the four-plus innings he pitched last year on Opening Day, while still earning the victory as he did in Milwaukee.

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