DENVER — Never, he said. Never in Jon Gray’s 26 years and six months of human existence has he done what he did on a curious afternoon at Coors Field that gets curious-er and curious-er by the minute.
Gray, the former No. 3 overall draft pick and hopeful ace of the Rockies (starting!) pitching rotation, was going to come out of the bullpen on Sunday. Seriously, I saw it, and so did roughly 41,851 others who filtered in to sip some cold ones and ultimately witness the Rockies’ bullpen blow another lead in a 10-7 loss to the stupid Dodgers. Even though the bullpen sits way out past right field, this is Jon Gray we’re talking about: flowing blonde locks, ready smile, emotions on his sleeve. The big fella kinda sticks out, you know? After a jarring defeat that left the clubhouse quiet, I went over to Gray’s locker to double-check. Yep, it was him. Sure was.
“It’s definitely different,” Gray said of his would-be sojourn into relief duty.
Gray threw about 35 warm-up pitches and never entered the game. The Dodgers won it before he could with three runs in the ninth, completing the series sweep. But before the Rockies do anything else, they need to have a heart-to-heart with the powerful right arm who holds their future in his oversized mitts. Given the anxiety that’s surrounded Gray’s recent starts, they must let him know if the bullpen trip was merely a product of circumstance or a real, live experiment waiting to be unveiled. With the Rox stumbling out of a 4-5 homestand and into their first four-game losing streak of the season, the last thing you need is a No. 1 starter who’s unsure of exactly where he fits in around here.
“He was going to pitch the extra innings,” manager Bud Black confirmed.
The Rox are 0-for-June. The good news? Monday is only June 4. The bad news? The way the Rox are losing checks all the wrong boxes. They're taking on water in a place they can't afford to take on water, in the $100-million bullpen. Not only that, but the when is just as important: the Dodgers aren’t healthy, not even close, and yet now they’re only one game back of the Rockies. Soon as the Dodgers began to mount their third straight assault of the purple 'pen — a comeback captained by Max “MVP” Muncy and his two home runs — I read a snippet on MLB.com that should serve as a slap back to reality for even the heartiest Rox fans: in the absence of starting pitchers Kenta Maeda, Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers starters have gone 7-1 with a 2.38 ERA.
Do you know what would happen if the Rox lost four starters from their pitching rotation? Coors Field would look something like that volcano in Hawaii, but not in the way that makes you want to take photos of the lava. It would be in the way that makes you want to run.
But that's the Dodgers for ya. For all their un-wholiness, the injuries are merely a hiccup on an inevitable dance back to first place by the end of June. Just watch. They'll be there. And the Rox haven’t taken advantage of the mild, mild West. At all.
“Define ‘bad stretch,’” catcher Chris Iannetta said Sunday.
OK, snark-free: Colorado’s bullpen just allowed 17 earned runs over three games against the Dodgers. Heading into this season, the angst at first base was pretty much expected. Not welcomed, but pretty much expected. But the pricey bullpen was cracked up to be the strength of the team.
Don’t look now — no, really, turn away — but the Rockies have allowed 34 of 82 inherited runners to score, the highest mark in the National League. One thing about playing baseball here is there's precious little room for error on the big-money items. You must hit on them. So far the Rox haven't.
“In terms of playing to our potential we still have a ways to go, which is a good thing,” Ianetta said.
And since we are a fair people, it’s necessary to point out that Black was the only guy around these hills who wasn’t freaking out when the 2017 Rockies lost eight straight to close June. Buddy was right then, and he could be right now, because those Rox turned out just fine and in the postseason.
“It’s three games,” Black said without a hint of anxiety. “You (have to) look at 162 games. You’re looking at a snippet of three games.”
“You know this group,” he added. “This is a team that turns the page very well.”
The irony of ironies arrived in the ninth inning. Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal unloaded a 425-foot home run off Wade Davis. The baseball landed in the Dodgers’ bullpen, which is separated by a green wall from the Rockies’ bullpen, which is where Jon Gray was warming up.
It allowed the ballpark another look at who it was: Yep, that's Jon Gray. Was this a one-time thing, since Gray's Sunday turned out to be just like any other off-day? Or was it a move in progress? The unexpected scenario added another layer to the doubt that's starting to simmer at Coors Field.