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Rockies' Gray learns from harsh debut

Third overall pick in '13 Draft allows four runs on seven hits
July 10, 2013

Colorado first-rounder Jonathan Gray has rarely struggled in his baseball career. But on those occasions when he has faced adversity, the learning experience has often been greater than when he's simply cruised.

On Wednesday, he got his first taste of what he will need to do to be successful in pro ball.

The right-hander allowed four runs -- three earned -- on seven hits while striking out one batter over three innings in his Minors debut as the Rookie-level Grand Junction Rockies beat the Billings Mustangs, 10-6.

"I don't think it was a very good outing, but I learned from that," Gray said. "I won't get better until I fail. ... I'm glad that happened tonight.

"I can learn a lot. The best way to succeed is to fail, and now I know what I need to work on. When you fail, you see where you need to get better. I will be better next time."

Selected third overall in last month's Draft, Gray was the focus of attention heading into a game was highlighted by teammate Raimel Tapia's career night at the plate.

The Rockies center fielder went 5-for-5 with a homer, three doubles, five RBIs and two runs scored. It marked the first five-hit game of his three-year pro career and the first time he recorded at least three extra-base hits in the same contest.

The outing raised his average to a Pioneer League-best .405. It also gave Tapia -- who leads the league in hits (30) and RBIs (22) -- his ninth multi-hit game in 17 Pioneer League appearances and his sixth outing with two or more hits in his past seven outings.

"It was incredible. He was seeing the ball so good and he was taking every hack with confidence," Gray said of the Rockies leadoff hitter.

"He can spark everything. His confidence will help with the other guys. They see that and say, 'I want to do that.' [As a pitcher] it gives you comfort, but you still want to go out every time with the mind-set that you need to limit the damage."

Life as a pro started off rough for Gray, who yielded three runs on a pair of doubles and two singles in his first inning.

The 6-foot-4, 255-pound hurler gave up a fourth run in the second on a fielding error by left fielder Terry McClure and two more singles, before setting down four of the final five batters he faced.

"I wasn't nervous at all," said Gray, who was limited to three innings or around 50 pitches, whichever came first. "I started to get better in the third inning, but I was just frustrated with myself. It took me a while to make that adjustment to get the ball down. If I had pitched six or seven innings, that would have been fine.

"I was throwing a lot of fastballs and a decent amount of change-ups. I think the change-up was good, but the fastball was too high and they were taking early swings. That's just an adjustment I need to make."

It's an adjustment Gray, who did not factor in the decision, isn't too accustomed to needing to make.

Previously selected by the Royals in the 13th round of the 2010 Draft and by the Yankees the following year, Gray went 8-1 with a 1.50 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings in his junior year at Chandler High School and lost just twice in his freshman year at Eastern Oklahoma State College.

He compiled an 8-4 record and 3.16 ERA in his sophomore year after transferring to the University of Oklahoma in 2012, and he was 10-3 with the Sooners this season, ranking third in the nation with 147 strikeouts.

One of the top prospects entering June's Draft, Gray made national headlines when he tested positive for Adderall, a substance on MLB's banned list.

Like everything else, he used it as a learning opportunity.

"I don't really care," 21-year-old Gray said of the extra attention he received. "It's in the past for me now. It's all about the future in pro ball. I guess I don't let things like that bother me."

Gray, who had not pitched in a game in a month since facing LSU in the Super Regionals on June 7, is expecting to be stretched out a little more in his next start. He expects to throw around 60 or 65 pitches against Great Falls on Monday or in Billings next Wednesday.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB.