And not just because of the chance to watch Matt Harvey pitch.
I am traveling (again) and so last night I didn ’t get to see or hear or even imagine the game Jon Gray was tossing last night (I have gotten to watch fewer games this year than at any point in the past 5). Save a home run gopher ball and a walk to the pitcher, it was pretty close to a perfect night for the young righty. We have seen a lot of young arms in our time watching the Rox. From Burke and Wright in the early days to Jennings in the mid-period to Ubaldo and Frankie M in 2007. Of all those only Morales and Ubaldo have near the stuff we saw last night. Ubaldo of course became the best pitcher in Rox history…sorry Jeff Francis…in large part because stuff does matter. There is a reason why Greg Maddux is among the greatest right-handed throwers in history. His stuff was average at best (he would have made a great Rockie based on stuff), but he knew what to do with his collection of so-so pitches…mostly thanks to control. But Maddux is pretty much alone among the great righties. All the rest were the Gibson – Ryan – Clemens variety. Great stuff makes a big difference.
No, I am not trying to suggest Jon Grey is in that category. Those are once a generation guys. But he can be a heck of a pitcher. Because what we saw last night – both control and TRUST (he threw pitches where a few inches either way the pitch is either a ball or in the hot zone of the hitter). Eddie Butler has great stuff…he really does. But when he throws he doesn’t throw the ball with any confidence. He simply doesn’t trust his stuff, which means a bad combination of nibbling and not finishing his pitches. Of course the silly thing is that doing what Butler does gets the same bad result as throwing his pitch and living with the outcome. I stress that this doesn’t mean that Butler is done as a talent. It takes some pitchers a while to get to that point of trust and confidence. Something to watch the last month and a half of the season.
But Gray, at least for a night….was the kind of guy who can flat dominate because he knows his stuff can be unhittable, and who doesn’t take a hit (like the homer in the 2nd) as an excuse to go back to nibbling. If Gray throws like that most nights, even if his stuff isn’t there which of course its not every night, even if he gets beat or hit hard, it will be on his terms, not the hitters. For those who worried the Rox had ruined Gray in the minors, I hope this made you feel better. Gray gets it – you get quick outs when they present themselves (2 and 3 pitch outs were big last night), and when you need to go and get the K or the long AB where you get a popup (as he did with Granderson in the 5th).
The Rox in a “perfect” world would throw a 1-2-3 next year of Bettis, DLR, and Gray. Bettis’s elbow is the key right now. Can he avoid major surgery? If he can, does his stuff stay as electric as it has been at times this year? DLR has to be more consistent in 2016, but we know he can do that…if he keeps his hands healthy (oh, and his groin). And Gray? He needs to continue to develop. And the Rox need to be smart with him (its why I am not real bothered by the 6 inning limit last night).
But here is the thing. Three top staring pitchers is not enough for this team to even dream of the Wild Card. In 2013 they had arguably their 2nd best top group of pitchers in team history. Chacin, DLR and Chatwood all had sub-4 ERAs and there were very few nights when they pitches they didn’t put their team in a position to win. But 2013 was a lousy year. Not because of the big 3. But because the other myriad of imposters who threw in the 4 and 5 spots were simply awful! I mean Jim Tracy Sunday lineup awful. The Rox to be competitive have to have at least 4 and preferable 5 or 6 starters who can simply keep their team in the game. Aside from 2009 and the year that all 5 starters won 10 games, this team has struggled to have competitive rotation options 1-5.
Which is why tonight, while lacking the glamour of last night, is nearly as important to the ball club for 2016 and 2017. The Rox need competitive options for 4 and 5 (and given the Rox issues with keeping pitchers healthy, probably 7-8 options overall). There are a lot of potentials for those spots in 2016…assuming Bettis and Gray who join DLR in the front end of the rotaiton. They include prospects like Freeland and Hoffman (and if his elbow ever heals, Tyler Anderson), but also guys who have showed glimpses but have missed in 2015 – Eddie Butler and Tyler Matzek (who is back in AAA getting ready to throw…he is hoping he beats the yips). But Chris Russin…along with David Hale…is one of those candidates who has to make you stop and look. A former 4th round pick of the Cubs who dumped him last September for reasons I have not completely understood, is not an ace. He’s not even a #3. But the lefty, when he hits his spots, can be a very competitive #4 for the Rox (or #5). They have gotten some good starts from Russin, but the Rox need to see more starts in the 3 runs over 6 innings variety. When he hits his spots…he can do that.
And so just like last night we get to see another tryout for the Rox 2016 rotation. Not sexy…I mean its Chris Russin for goodness sake. I mean compared to John Gray Russin is….Yohan Flande (what does that mean Flande is then compared to Gray?). But they need to have a number of solid potential 4th and 5th starters for 2016. If they can start to get guys who are real deals as part of the rotation for 2016 then…well, then this team has a chance to be a 2006 Rockies…or with a little stretch maybe the 2009 Rox. So…watch tonight. In addition to seeing if Kyle Parker and Ben Paulsen can be part of the starting 8 in 2016 and whether or not DJ can keep hitting for the whole season, watch Chris Russin. And imagine him going into San Francisco to face Matt Cain a year from now the Rox trailing the Giants by 2 games for the WC in mid-September. Is this a guy the team can give the ball to when facing a pressure situation? Well, we continue to find out tonight.
In other news…the Rox get a recently hot Matt Harvey, whose stuff is electric when its strikes and really wild when its not. Jon Gray is not Matt Harvey. Jon Grey has a chance to be Garret Cole, the #1 of the Pirates. Harvey and Fernandez in Miami are in a different category. So enjoy watching Harvey tonight. See what it looks like to have a #1 who you just know you are going to win because he is throwing tonight.
Oh…and is CarGo the best overall player in the National League tonight? If he drives in a run against Harvey, I think the answer will be getting closer and closer to a yes.