SAN DIEGO — Sometimes, numbers really do tell the story. Well, at least part of it.
In the Rockies’ season-opening game at Arizona, Jon Gray needed 30 pitches to escape an unsightly first inning in which the Diamondbacks mugged him for three runs.
Wednesday night, as the Rockies sailed to a 5-2 victory over the Padres at still-chilly Petco Park, the big right-hander needed just 11 pitches in a scoreless first frame — and eight of those were thrown for strikes. By the end of his impressive evening, Colorado’s No.1 pitcher had tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits, no walks and striking out seven. He threw 93 pitches, 63 for strikes.
“The difference was aggressiveness,” Gray said. “We got a lot more strike ones tonight. We were going at people, going inside, and establishing the fastball early. I think that really helped everything else.”
Manager Bud Black has issued a blunt challenge for his starters to perform better. Who could blame him? After all, through the first five games of the season, Colorado starters had a cringe-worthy 6.21 ERA. Gray responded to Black’s summons with an ace-like effort as the Rockies improved to 3-3.
“Jon bounced back for sure, ” Black said. “I was a guy who stayed within his delivery for most of the game. He stayed pretty poised throughout the game within his delivery. His fastball had life, (he had) a good slider. And I liked the fact that the curveball come into play as the game went on.”
It helped that the Rockies ambushed San Diego lefty Clayton Richard by scoring five runs in the first two innings, thus providing Gray with a Linus-worthy security blanket from the get-go. Add on a diving catch in right field by Carlos Gonzalez to rob Austin Hedges of extra bases in the third, and a 24-karat play by second DJ LeMahieu on Matt Szczur’s liner in the fifth, and Gray was in a comfy place.
“Jon’s a pretty good front-runner, and I like that,” Black said. “Like in a horse race, if you get the lead as a horse, sometimes you finish it. I’ll keep an eye on Jon, but hopefully he’s a good front-runner. He catches the lead and just keeps going.”
Center fielder Charlie Blackmon — he of the freshly-minted, six-year, $108 million contract — opened the game with a single. LeMahieu followed up with another single and Nolan Arenado drove in Blackmon with a double into the left-field corner. Trevor Story, who’s starting to show that he can be an offensive force in ways he did not early last season, hit a broken-bat double to score LeMahieu and Arenado.
In the second inning, back-to-back two-out singles by Blackmon and LeMahieu, followed by a walk by Arenado, set the table for Ian Desmond. He partially cleared it with a two-run single up the middle. Desmond is batting .421 with a team-high seven RBIs.
Richard, the San Diego veteran, got ripped for five runs on eight hits, and he also walked three.
After his poor performance vs. the D-backs in the opener, Gray vowed that that game would not carry over into his next start, or into the season. He was right.
“I am feeling more comfortable every time out, so I think that has a lot to do with it, ” he said. “It’s just something that is going to keep rolling if I take the positives from each one of these. If we keep taking steps forward, I think things will be looking really good for this season.”
Lefty Jake McGee took over for Gray in the eighth and allowed two runs (one earned) on a hit and a walk and his own miscue covering the first-base bag before Bryan Shaw finished out the frame. Closer Wade Davis finished the game and earned the save, his third of the year.
Colorado’s offense went into hibernation after Desmond’s double, but the early onslaught was more than enough to carry the Rockies to victory.
The Rockies will attempt to win the third game of the four-game series Thursday afternoon at Petco Park, before heading home to Denver for Friday’s possibly snowy home opener at Coors Field.