It’s beginning to look like the New York Yankees just plain messed up with Sonny Gray.
As the Cincinnati Reds anticipate better days, with some projections having the Reds actually winning the National League Central Division this season, one of the deciding factors behind the optimism is starting pitching. One of the deciding factors of optimism in the starting pitchers is Gray, the former Vanderbilt star now with his third major league team.
Before Gray joined the Reds last off-season, he was the center of a still mystifying story in New York the previous season. He never seemed to look like himself, and if there was ever an explanation for why Gray didn’t excel in New York, it hasn’t really been told. It remains a mystery.
Gray is no mystery in Cincinnati. He looks every bit the talented pitcher he was for the Oakland Athletics, where he pitched from 2013 to midway 2017. His time in New York ended with a 15-16 record over two seasons.
But look at him now.
Gray had an earned run average of 2.87 last season for the Reds, the fifth best in the National League. Better still, Gray, who played at Smyrna High School in Rutherford County, held opposing hitters to a batting average of .196, which was second in the league only to Jack Flaherty of the St. Louis Cardinals at .192. Gray’s opposing batting average was better than that of Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom at .207 and slightly better than teammate Luis Castillo at .202.
Further, Gray’s walks-plus-hits-per-innings-pitched was 1.08, with Flaherty and de Grom tied atop the league at .97. Gray, an American League All-Star for Oakland in 2015, made the National League All-Star team last season for Cincinnati.
The low batting average for opposing players is especially notable since Gray now pitches in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. It is simple enough to say that Gray, part of a potent starting rotation, is a big reason for the high hopes in Cincinnati.
In an extraordinary episode of the podcast Uninterrupted, Gray and Yankee great C.C. Sabathia, who retired after last season, briefly touched on Gray’s time in New York, alluding to a lack of information to rely on, as opposed to what was going on elsewhere, like in Houston. Sabathia said Gray knew what he needed but that there just wasn’t enough help for him. Gray made it clear he loved Larry Rothschild, the Yankees pitching coach at the time. He said he loved New York and that it made him a better person on and off the field.
Gray gave great credit to Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson, who had coached Gray in college. Getting back to working with Johnson, who knew Gray’s strengths, was a major factor in Gray’s resurgence.
Trevor Bauer, a current teammate on the Reds, was also on the podcast and praised what he saw in Gray in Cincinnati after Bauer joined the club-midseason. The podcast was hosted by Ryan Ruocco.
Ruocco dutifully got the three pitchers into a conversation about the Astros’ cheating scandal, where the Houston club was stealing signs in 2017. Gray said he felt like he knew a lot of the Astros having played against them so much coming up in his career.
“In the grand scheme of things, they were cheating,” Gray said. “It is what it is. It sucks.”
Gray said he would almost rather tell a batter which pitch is coming than to have the batter steal the sign and know what’s coming without the pitcher knowing it.
“I would almost rather tell you,” Gray said, “because now I know that you know. I know that you know I’m throwing a fastball, let’s f—ing go.”
That’s the essence of a competitive nature, and it is fascinating to hear three high-caliber big-league pitchers talk about their profession. If the freewheeling Uninterrupted podcast is the future of how big-league baseball is covered, it is a welcome, refreshing sign for everyone.
And Gray is a refreshing sign for Cincinnati.