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Rockies' Gray wins Cal League debut
Third overall pick fans seven, gives up two hits in five innings
08/03/2013 3:12 AM ET
Jonathan Gray has a 2.95 ERA and 22 strikeouts in five Minor League starts.
Jonathan Gray has a 2.95 ERA and 22 strikeouts in five Minor League starts. (Grand Junction Rockies)

During Jonathan Gray's first inning at the Class A Advanced level, his fastball touched 99 mph.

He didn't throw that hard again, not because he couldn't but because he didn't feel the need.

"Oh, yeah, I can do that whenever," Gray said. "That's something I can bring out whenever I feel comfortable in the strike zone. I didn't try to go with above-velocity tonight because I didn't really need it. I was hitting both corners and locating the ball down."

Gray, the third overall pick in this year's Draft, gave up two hits and struck otu seven over five innings to record his first professional win Friday night as Modesto blanked visiting Stockton, 5-0.

"I just really focused on pounding the strike zone and establishing the fastball down. It felt really good," he said after throwing 59 pitches without walking a batter. "For some reason, I had no nervous feelings in this one. I was able to just take it one pitch at a time. I felt like I was in control the whole time. I established my fastball early and brought out the slider later on. Today, I really took a big step forward in my fastball command."

Drafted out of the University of Oklahoma and already anointed by MLB.com as the Rockies' top prospect, Gray posted a 4.05 ERA in four starts for Grand Junction in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. Over 13 1/3 innings, he struck out 15 batters and walked two but wasn't satisfied with his performance, which he said was sometimes hampered by nerves.

"I worked through it and it got easier every time, each outing," he said. "[In college], I would get nervous before every game, but once I was on the mound, I found that comfort zone."

The 21-year-old right-hander looked pretty comfortable early in his California League debut, striking out the side in the opening inning.

"[The plan] was just to use the fastball on both sides of the plate. The pitches were there and guys were swinging early," Gray said. "I was able to get some to chase quite a bit on a couple balls that were a bit outside. Other pitches were right on the black."

The results reminded him what he's capable of.

"It felt pretty good to do that," he said, "especially because I had a few games with struggles for Grand Junction."

Gray surrendered a leadoff single in the second to B.A. Vollmuth.

"I really wanted to work on early contact, but on the first pitch of the inning, I threw a fastball right down the middle," he said. "I didn't mean to leave it there, it was supposed to be down. He took advantage and tagged it."

The first-team All-American worked around Vollmuth's hit and a wild pitch, picking up two more strikeouts, then cruised through perfect innings in the third and fourth. He gave up another leadoff single in the fifth, this one to Tony Thompson.

"It was just a really good job of hitting," Gray said. "I threw a slider and it was six or seven inches off the plate. He hooked it into the six-hole."

Bruce Maxwell bounced into a double play and Myrio Richard flied out to end the inning and Gray's night.

The win, he said, "feels really good. It's kind of a comfort thing for me after struggling in Rookie ball the first outing or two.

"I'm definitely more comfortable and things are already improving from four pro starts. I just keep working on things, and in all the outings to come, I want to pick up something from every outing and be able to work on it for the next outing, to try to learn a lot from every outing."

Ryan Arrowood followed Gray to the mound and fanned three over two hitless innings before William Rankin finished up Modesto's fifth shutout of the season.

Harold Riggins and Brian Humphries homered for the Nuts, while Rockies No. 12 prospect Will Swanner singled, walked, scored twice and drove in a run.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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