Gray set to return to mound after worst start of season

Reds starter Sonny Gray throws the first pitch of the season against the Tigers on Opening Day on Friday, July 24, 2020, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

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Reds starter Sonny Gray throws the first pitch of the season against the Tigers on Opening Day on Friday, July 24, 2020, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Right-hander allowed six runs in less than an inning in last start

The last time Cincinnati Reds fans saw Sonny Gray on a pitching mound, they had to look quickly. The glimpse was that short.

The St. Louis Cardinals sent 10 batters to the plate in the first inning on Sept. 1 at Great American Ball Park. They teamed up for six runs, five hits, three walks, a groundout and a strikeout, prompting two mound visits before manager David Bell mercifully replaced Gray with Lucas Sims.

The two-thirds of an inning is the shortest start of Gray’s career. He allowed six runs in one inning for the second time. His earned-run average zoomed in the span of two outs from 1.94 though his first seven starts to 3.19. Three days later, Bell announced that Gray would miss his next start.

“I made it through the Cardinals start and the Milwaukee start, and I could just feel my body was getting a little worn down,” Gray, 30, said at the time. “Physically, I feel OK – just a breather, get on the mound, then finish the strongest possible.”

“His arm didn’t hurt, but nothing was coming out the way he’s used to,” Bell said at the time. "We just want to make sure, given everything he’s dealt with and all our players have dealt with this season, just make sure he has enough time to get rejuvenated for his next start and not rush that.

“He’s been so good for us for a year and a half,” Bell said. “He’s gone deep into games. He’s healthy. He’s even healthier this year than he was last year. We want to make sure we keep it that way. We don’t like pushing anyone back this time of year given the season and everything, but at least we will have him in Chicago, which is a good thing.”

Gray (5-2), Bell and the Reds will find out whether that’s true Thursday when he faces the Cubs in the finale of a three-game series at Wrigley Field.

“I feel fine, physical, mentally – everything,” the 2019 All-Star said. "I feel like I could go out (Thursday) and be in a good spot. I got a lot of work in the bullpen. I had bullpens Sunday and (Tuesday). I like pitching against the Cubs, and I like pitching in Wrigley. It’ll be different without fans for sure, like everything is this year. I’m confident going out there.

“I feel comfortable taking the ball. I will feel better now than I would have a couple of days ago.”

Ironically, Gray’s control problems most likely allowed him to extend to 41 his major league-record streak of consecutive starts allowing six or fewer hits.

While Gray was throwing bullpens, rookie Tejay Antone started in Gray’s place on Sunday in Pittsburgh and Tyler Mahle made Tuesday’s start in the series-opener in Chicago.

“(Tyler) Mahle threw the ball great,” Gray said. “Tejay (Antone) threw the ball great. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling right along.”

Gray admitted that he suspected something was off going into his last start. He hopes he learned how to handle it better.

“You can probably feel it a little bit,” he said. "For me to take that next step means managing it a little better. If you look back at that game, you can’t walk guys. When you know you don’t have it, you almost have to have a reverse mindset. If you don’t have great stuff, you’ve got to attack more. When you don’t feel great and the ball isn’t coming out of your hand, you’ve got to figure out a way to do better.

“It happened. It was a long time ago.”

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