While Coors Field will be without fans for Friday’s home opener against the Padres, and the baseball debauchery of the city’s annual unofficial holiday will be sadly non-existent, at least things are lining up ideally for Colorado on the mound.
There, right-hander Jon Gray is set to make his first career home opener start, and the Rockies’ best starting pitcher from last season will do it against a San Diego team he’s dominated throughout his six-year career.
Gray is 10-4 with a 2.97 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) against San Diego, and has made a habit of fanning Padres to the tune of 10.8 strikeouts/nine innings and a 5.79 strikeouts/walk ratio. Throw in the memory of one of the team’s all-time best-pitched games (a club-record 16-K performance against San Diego at home in 2016) and a decent showing in his season debut in Texas last week (4.1 innings, one run), and Gray is primed for Friday.
“I’m ready for that real competition there, and I feel like I always have an edge (at Coors Field), so I’m excited,” the 28-year-old said. “(At home I pitch) knowing that I’m going to out-do the other guy and knowing that our lineup is going to hit the ball. It’s a good combination and it makes you feel confident.”
Last year, Gray was 6-2 with a 3.46 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) at Coors Field, and has pitched slightly better at home than on the road over the course of his career (4.36 ERA vs 4.52 ERA, respectively).
Manager Bud Black said Gray “hit a wall” in the fifth inning of his start in Texas last weekend, but expects the right-hander to be capable of upwards of 90 pitches Friday. In addition to his potent fastball-slider combination, Black said he’s seen more confidence from Gray in his curveball and change-up over the two phases of spring training.
“We saw in spring training the continued growth of Jon. And more than anything, from a couple years ago, now there’s a poise and a confidence there that’s showing pretty consistently,” Black said. “He’s to the point now where he’s getting confidence in all his pitches, and not just the fastball/slider combination.”
Gray’s focus on avoiding the big inning — and thus the ugly start — has carried over into 2020 after his 2019 season ended prematurely due to a foot injury. He said he hopes to demonstrate improved an fastball command in his second outing of the year, as he tries to cement himself as a pillar in the top half of Colorado’s rotation.
“Last year, I thought I did a good job of not letting games get out of hand,” Gray said. “I feel like that’s always been my weakness — good games, they always came no problem, but there was always an ugly one in between that was six, seven, eight runs. Eliminating those types of games has been a big help.”
Right-hander Garrett Richards is pitching for San Diego in the series opener as the Rockies (4-1) look to continue their hot start amid the 60-game condensed season.
Padres RHP Garrett Richards (0-0, 0.00 ERA) at Rockies RHP Jon Gray (0-0, 1.93)
6:10 p.m. Friday, Coors Field
TV: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: KOA 850 AM/94.1 FM
Richards, 32, underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2018, but the Padres decided to sign him to a two-year deal. Richards made three starts to close out the 2019 season, although he was limited to 8 2/3 innings. Richards’ first start of 2020 was strong: five scoreless innings, one hit, six strikeouts and three walks in a no-decision vs. Arizona on Sunday. The right-hander has battled injuries since 2016, but his career 3.60 ERA shows that he can be an effective starter. The Rockies have limited experience against the former Angels pitcher. Gray has owned the Padres, going 10-4 with a 2.97 ERA against them in 20 games (19 starts). In his first appearance this season, Gray was sharp against Texas, giving up one run on three hits, but he tired in the fifth inning and did not get a decision.
Trending: The Rockies have given up only nine runs in their first five games this season, by far the fewest runs they’ve ever allowed through the first five games of a season (the previous low was 14 runs in 2011). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no major league team has allowed fewer than 10 runs through the first five games of a season since the 2015 Braves (nine runs).
At issue: The Rockies are 4-1 even though some of their best hitters have been slow out of the gate. Nolan Arenado is hitting .222, Charlie Blackmon .238, Daniel Murphy .214 and David Dahl .227.
Saturday: Padres LHP Joey Lucchesi (10-10, 4.18 in 2019) at Rockies LHP Kyle Freeland (1-0, 3.00), 6:10 p.m., ATTRM
Sunday: Padres RHP Zach Davies (1-0, 3.60) at Rockies RHP Antonio Senzatela (1-0, 3.60), 1:10 p.m., ATTRM
Monday: Giants Johnny Cueto (0-0, 5.87) at Rockies RHP German Marquez (1-1, 1.54), 6:40 p.m., ATTRM