Gray, Rockies hope for good start vs. Reds

The Colorado Rockies got the good start they wanted to begin their series in Cincinnati. Now they’d like to get something that’s been lacking for weeks from top starter Jon Gray.

Namely, a good start of his own.

Gray, a 10-game winner in each of the last two seasons, is struggling through a four-game slump in which his ERA is 9.33 and batters are hitting .360 against him. His only win during that stretch was against … yes, the Reds, a May 25 outing in which he won 5-4 despite giving up four runs and six hits and walking three in six innings.

According to manager Bud Black and pitching coaches Steve Foster and Darren Holmes, hitters are sitting on Gray’s slider, normally his best pitch, because his fastball location is erratic. That’s evident in Gray’s numbers: a 5-6 record and 5.68 ERA.

“They said one thing: get the ball out of the glove,” Gray told the team’s website. “We make it very simple. So don’t think about it too much. When you think about it too much, things get out of whack. Getting it out (of the glove) creates a downhill fastball, because my arm isn’t dragging behind. I’m trying to stay on top of the ball and throw it hard downhill.”

The Rockies’ offense must have felt like it was rolling downhill all night Tuesday as Colorado ended a four-game losing streak by dealing the last-place Reds their sixth loss in eight games, 9-6 at Great American Ball Park.

Colorado jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning against Reds right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, who didn’t get much help from a leaky defense in his first start since September 2016. The Rockies then added on enough runs that even a three-run Reds ninth inning and 17 Cincinnati hits didn’t make much difference. At one point, the Rockies led 9-1.

“That’s a good lineup over there and they’re going to get you if you’re not sharp,” Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “The first couple of innings, they got some hits … maybe there was a little rust on him (DeSclafani). I was pleased with the results after the first couple of innings.”

DeSclafani missed the entire 2017 season with a partially torn UCL, then strained his left oblique during the final week of spring training this season. He lasted five innings, yielding four runs and six hits.

A point of emphasis for Reds starter Sal Romano (3-6, 6.00 ERA) on Wednesday night will be shutting down Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez, who went 3-for-5 with four RBIs on Tuesday, including a three-run home run off reliever Wandy Peralta. Gonzalez is 7-for-9 with two homers and six RBIs in his last two games against Cincinnati.

Romano matched up against Gray and the Rockies on May 25 and took the loss while giving up five runs and eight hits, including a Nolan Arenado home run, in 5 1/3 innings. But he beat Colorado last July 6, allowing two runs over five innings.

Romano won his last start, defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-4 on Wednesday despite permitting two homers, seven hits and four runs over five innings.

Gray has had success against the Reds, beating them in each of his three career starts while compiling a 4.08 ERA in 17 2/3 innings. However, Joey Votto and Scooter Gennett are 5-for-9 against him — Votto has a double, triple and homer — and Eugenio Suarez is 2-for-6 with a homer and three RBIs.

Gray, trying to straighten himself out, has had two bullpen sessions rather than the usual one since lasting 3 1/3 innings on May 30 against San Francisco in a 7-4 Giants victory in which he did not figure in the decision.

The Rockies, fighting with the Arizona Diamondbacks for first place in the NL West, have taken three of four from the Reds this season. Cincinnati is only 9-20 at home this season, while Colorado is much better on the road (20-13) than at home (11-16).