|Rockies, Padres starting pitchers on different paths|
DENVER -- The seasons for Jon Gray and Tyson Ross have veered in drastically different directions.
Gray has lost a career-high three consecutive starts for the Colorado Rockies and has struggled in all but one of his outings. San Diego's Ross flirted with a no-hitter in his last start for the Padres and has pitched at least six innings in his four starts this season.
Gray, who is 1-4 with a 7.09 ERA, has gone that distance in one of his five starts. He and Ross, who is 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA, will oppose each other Wednesday in the rubber game of the series.
Ross is coming off a 127-pitch outing Friday at Arizona, a magnificent start that saw him hold the Diamondbacks hitless for 7 2/3 innings until Christian Walker doubled home a run and end Ross' workday.
Ross walked three and struck out 10. It was the second straight win and second straight superb outing for Ross, who gave up one unearned run in six innings April 13 against San Francisco in Arizona's 5-1 victory.
Ross, an All-Star with the Padres in 2016, has made a remarkable comeback from an April 2016 shoulder injury that occurred on Opening Day in what turned out to be his only start for the Padres that season and resulted in surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome that October. He signed with Texas as a free agent but had a 7.71 ERA in 12 games (10 starts) for the Rangers and returned to the Padres as a minor league free agent in December.
Ross, who turned 31 on Monday, has also learned to add or subtract velocity from his two- and four-seam fastballs and alter the look of his slider. Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley said Ross doesn't throw his changeup enough to even mention it but essentially has four or five pitches because of his variations to his two- and four-seam fastballs and slider.
"It's not just one shape anymore," Balsley said. "He has a bigger slider. He has a shorter slider. And he can shape it differently according to who the hitter is or according to whether he needs to throw a strike or throw one in the dirt. He's learning how to do that. And that's just through experience and reps and maturity.
"In the past, when I saw him throw an 88 mile-an-hour fastball, I'd worry. This year, it's not a bother at all. He's just throttling back, and he uses that to change speeds instead of the changuep. And then you see he's 93, 94 again the next pitch. So he can go back and forth. He's learning how to disrupt the timing because he's throwing strikes."
Ross is 1-5, 3.54 in 12 games (10 starts) against the Rockies. The win was April 3 at San Diego when Ross gave up three runs in six innings in the Padres' 8-4 victory. Gray's lone win this year was against the Padres on April 4, when he pitched seven scoreless innings in the Rockies' 5-2 victory. He's 5-3, 2.88 in 12 career starts against the Padres but 0-3, 10.34 in his past three starts.
"I can't really think about what's happened already," Gray said. "I think it's going to be key. It's just forgetting about all the negativity that's happened and still be able to see the outs in my head when I go for it."
While giving up eight hits and seven runs (six earned) in five innings Friday in a loss to the Chicago Cubs, Gray lacked his signature slider and, hence, had just one strikeout as the pitch acted more like a cutter and didn't have a sharp downward break. He said he thought the problem with his slider was mechanical but instead altered his grip between starts and was happy with the results in a side session Monday when he used his index finger to spin his slider.
"It's a better breaking ball," Gray said. "So if I can take that into the game, I know it's going to make me better."