A step back and a look up toward the flagpole, no matter the stadium, has become a moment of solace for Jon Gray. The right-handed starter of the Colorado Rockies is on a journey to control his anger, a maturation process that can change the remainder of his career.
A root of the passion and intensity he possesses in games stems from Gray’s younger years when he played with his older brother.
“(My brother and I are) very close. I played up with him a level,” Gray said. “I played a year up as far back as I can remember. I always had to be a little better. (Had to) prove myself.”
Gray has fought to continue the process of proving he belongs, even after being selected with the third overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft.
In Gray’s first four years, outside of breakthrough 2017 campaign, the results were erratic. The biggest thing holding him back before 2019 was a rage that overtook him when the game got muddy.
“There’s been a lot of times where you can get the ball too fast and not think about what exactly you’re doing,” Gray said. “What you’re trying to do with the ball, what you’re trying to get the batter to do. You can make bad decisions really quick and easy.”
Whether it was a missed call by an umpire, a botched play by a fielder or any of the other various things that are out of Gray’s control, his anger consumed him. Last year’s struggles, including a demotion to Triple-A Albuquerque, brought to light the need for change.
“It was a really good week for me,” Gray said about his demotion. “Nothing felt right, nothing was working last year. My body didn’t feel strong, my pitches weren’t working, I didn’t have an out pitch. It was really tough to get guys out. But, that’s just the first thing I wanted to tackle this offseason.”
Among the many things Gray enacted to reverse his downward trajectory, was seeking the help of a mental skills coach. For much of his career, eating the morning before a start has been difficult, a problem that stems from pregame nervousness. Now he has an outlet for advice when those events arise.
The problems with his diet took a toll on Gray’s mental state, a burden that has begun to fade.
“If I wake up and I can’t eat, I don’t feel weird about it, I know it’s normal,” Gray said “I feel like this year, I’ve taken a big step in the right direction.”
Along with personal change, the Rockies coaching staff has supported Gray’s mentality, encouraging his efforts, while under control, in light of the situation that Rockies’ pitchers find themselves in.
“I think (the coaches) like seeing (it). I think we kind of all have this idea of having a little bit of a competitive edge when you’re pitching at Coors Field,” Gray said. “If you don’t have that attack mentality, it’s going to be a lot harder pitching here. Guys who are trying to nitpick around the zone (will have it harder).”
Out of spring training, Gray was deemed the team’s fourth starter, the lowest he’s been in the rotation in his career. He’s responded with a 4.22 earned run average that includes four quality starts (six or more innings with three or fewer earned runs).
In moments where chaos does arrive, such as a pair of walks to the bottom two Philadelphia Phillies’ hitters in his April 21st start, Gray’s made it a personal mission to focus on the positive outcomes.
“I just try to see the next pitch as an opportunity. Like, ‘hey, how sick would it be to make a nasty pitch right here and turn (a double play),’” Gray said. “It’s just the best response, probably the best outcome you can have after that. (You have to) still set your sights high and not playing into what’s happening.”
Gray battled through his miscues against the Phillies. Several subsequent chances have arisen for him to falter, events he’s overcome yet again. If 2019 is any indication, the turnaround, if it happens, will be masterful.