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Paul Klee: Jon Gray gives rolling Rockies an ace up the sleeve

By: Paul Klee
May 14, 2017 Updated: May 14, 2017 at 8:50 pm
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Colorado Rockies' Pat Valaika follows the flight of his two-run home run in the fourth inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 14, 2017, in Denver. The Rockies won 9-6. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER — To Jon Gray’s left and to his right, the media swarm in the Rockies clubhouse shuffled between lockers, scoring sound bytes and scribbling down insight from the players of the day.

After the Rox beat the Dodgers 9-6 at Coors Field on Sunday, there were more than a few to go around: Antonio Senzatela, lifting his rookie record to 6-1 on Mother’s Day, his mom’s death a year ago heavy on his heart (“So many emotions,” he said); Nolan Arenado, whose 456-foot home run should land by rush hour (“Felt good to hit the ball hard”); and Greg Holland, quite suddenly the best closer in the National League, a club-record 16 for 16 in save chances.

“It’s starting to pick up steam that this is a good club,” Holland said.

And what does the staff ace think about the Rockies leading the National League with 24 wins?

“I just think we’re going to get hotter and healthier,” Gray said, standing all by his lonesome. “This team is legitimate. We’re good. We know it.”

Know what else would be good? If Gray takes his sweet time in returning to the mound after recovering from a broken bone in his left foot. No rush, big guy. The Rox are alive and kickin’, and they will need their No. 1 starter in August and September more than they need him in May in June.

When Gray limped off the mound at AT&T Park in San Francisco on April 13, that old familiar dread crept into the back of the mind of every Rockies fan from Salida to Steamboat Springs: here we go again.

Now a show of hands: Who here thought the Rockies would go from two games above .500 when they lost Gray, to nine games above .500 and a 1.5-game division lead one month later without him? The Rockies have done more than tread water without the 25-year-old Gray; they’ve aimed a Nerf Super Soaker in the face of the widely held notion they will fold early, again.

Yes, we see your hand, general manager Jeff Bridich. Sweet move picking up Greg Holland, by the way.

Anyone else?

“Everything we’ve envisioned, we’re starting to see it become a reality,” Gray told me. “The young guys that came up through the system are pitching really good. You have to appreciate how they’ve pitched, especially since they’re so young for the most part. The bullpen is so sturdy. They’re holding up and doing a great job. And the offense is scoring runs like it always does. We’re in a good place right now.”

Whichever direction this Rockies train goes, folks are going to forget about May. If they relapse from winning series against the Diamondbacks and Cubs and splitting one with the Dodgers, the haters will return in full force. And if the club continues this stirring start, we’ll only remember the stretch run.

Gray said Sunday he’s “about three weeks” from removing the walking boot from his left foot.  

“I’m not sure about rehab after that, how long it will take. I’m still working my arm while I'm in this (walking boot), so I don’t think that will be an issue,” he said. “I just think it will be about building strength in my leg again.”

There’s no reason to rush Gray, and it sounds like the Rockies are in no rush.

“I get that feeling, too. Why rush? Why hit the panic button? Guys are playing good. Let 'em play,” said Gray, who had a 4.38 ERA and no decisions in three starts before the injury. “I can’t say enough about these guys right now. It’s really been fun to watch.”

You don’t have to tell the 41,051 who packed into Coors Field on a Sunday smothered in sunshine, lifting the total attendance for the 10-game homestand to 363,921. That's a lot of cold beers. And unlike the Cubs series, the Saturday and Sunday games against the Dodgers felt like a true home crowd rooting for the home team. The locals are catching on, evidenced by the rock-star welcome awarded to Holland when the closer exits the bullpen and makes his way to the pitching mound. It's been a while since the Rox had a closer with a reputation that preceded him.

“For a starter, it gives us all the confidence in the world to have him back there,” Gray said. “It’s quite an accomplishment. I can’t imagine 16 straight. He’s saved us every single time.”

The Rockies don’t need Gray to hurry back and save them now, or even in early June, the soonest he said he could return.

“We all know the Dodgers are going to be there in the end,” Arenado said. “We want to be there, too.”

And if the Rockies are there at the end, there's one thing better than having a healthy Jon Gray take the mound in a critical series. That's having a healthy Jon Gray with a minimal number of innings logged onto his rocket right arm.

Twitter: @bypaulklee

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