Thursday newsletter time: Rangers told Jon Gray he could thrive with them. So far, so good
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
ARLINGTON — Right-hander Jon Gray chose the Rangers over other suitors in the offseason because pitching coaches Doug Mathis and Brendan Sagara convinced Gray they could make him better.
They showed him a minor change to his slider grip.
It also was going to help that Gray wouldn’t need to change how he pitched from home start to road start, as was the case with the Rockies.
The results have been darn near instantaneous.
Now that he has settled into a consistent routine, which wasn’t available early in the season because of a blister and a balky knee, Gray has made the Mathis and Sagara sale’s pitch come to fruition.
Gray allowed only an infield single in seven scoreless innings while striking out nine as the Rangers rode a five-run first inning to a 5-2 victory. The slider was nearly unhittable.
“He had a good feel for it,” manager Chris Woodward said. “He also had a really good command of his fastball, but the slider was filthy today. If he’s got that going, it moves so much it’s hard to catch up.”
Gray threw 21 pitches in the first inning, which pushed his pitch count to 95 after seven innings. He said his slider was “sketchy” in the first inning, when he left a few of them up, but also said it was the best slider of his career over his final six innings.
“I felt like we were expanding lower and away and it just kept getting better and better,” he said. “After the first inning I felt good. It was a really good mix tonight. I felt like we didn’t have to waste as many pitches. I felt like they were much more competitive.”
Corey Seager didn’t homer, snapping a streak of five straight games, but he drove in the game’s first run with a sharp single in the first. Leody Taveras and Brad Miller collected back-to-back two-out two-run singles to hand Gray a 5-0 lead heading to the second inning.
The Rangers had only one hit the rest of the way, but Oakland didn’t score until hitting two homers against Jose Leclerc in the ninth.
The Rangers won two of the three games over the A’s and have opened this 10-game homestand with consecutive series wins. They open a four-game series Thursday against Seattle.
Gray finishes the first half at 5-4 with a 3.71 ERA. He’s holding opponents to a .222 average, which would easily be a career-best, and striking out 10.03 batters per nine innings. That would also be a career-best.
“The stuff has been there,” Woodward said. “Today you could see he put the command together with the stuff. The best two pitches of his are wipe-out stuff, and he showed that today.”
The timing for Oakland’s arrival on the schedule couldn’t have been any better for the Rangers, whose starting rotation outside of Gray and All-Star Martin Perez is starting to resemble Swiss cheese.
Dane Dunning is on the injured list, Spencer Howard is two starts into a trial run as a starter and Glenn Otto needs to be better.
The candidates to pitch Friday for Dunning are Taylor Hearn, A.J. Alexy or Cole Ragans, and none of them would be tasked with throwing any more than three or four innings. It’s likely to be Hearn, though Ragans’ next scheduled start is Friday.
Despite all the issues, Oakland’s meager offense gave the Rangers a chance to hold serve in two of the unsettled spots.
Howard pitched well Monday. Otto still needs to be better.
Throw the loss in 12 innings Tuesday, and the bullpen had holes to fill, too. That makes Friday another hold-your-breath start.
Alexy filled one of the relief spots. He has been working out of the bullpen at Triple A Round Rock and pitching well, so he was promoted for the first time this season. Josh Sborz came up, too, while Joe Barlow (blister) went on the injured list and Kolby Allard was optioned after allowing nine runs in consecutive outings Monday and Tuesday.
Another move is coming Friday.
The two losses on this homestand have been terribly aggravating, but guess what? The Rangers have won four times. It’s true! Rangers Today has been there for all of them, and we’ve had some other stuff. If you’re a first-time visitor, take a look at the site and sign up for free to get the daily newsletter dropped in your email, or pony up just $5.99 a month or $60 a year for access to all our stuff. It’s a bargain. Here’s a test drive of some of our latest, in case you missed it.
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