DENVER (AP) — Jon Gray went back to his power-pitching roots in a strong return to the majors.
Gray returned from a two-week minor league demotion to pitch into the eighth inning, Carlos Gonzalez homered and the Colorado Rockies extended their strong finish to the season’s first half by beating the Seattle Mariners 4-1 on Saturday night.
“I put that panic away and just had fun making pitches out there,” Gray said. “I was trying to be as natural as I could. I took so many mechanical things out of my mind. Just see the out in your head and make the pitch. I made it that simple today. It was a lot better.”
Ian Desmond added a one-out RBI triple in the fifth that chased Wade LeBlanc, who lost for the first time in his 22 career starts for Seattle. Nolan Arenado, on his bobblehead night, doubled, singled and drove in a run, helping Colorado win for the ninth time in 11 games heading into Sunday’s final game before the All-Star break.
“It was nice to put some runs up early and contribute with a home run, but the night belonged to Jon Gray,” Gonzalez said. “He did a tremendous job, dominated. Playing defense behind him was relaxing; not a lot of action, except for the eighth inning when they scored that run. But other than that he was tremendous.”
Colorado clinched its fifth consecutive series win, all against teams with records above .500. It’s the first time the Rockies have done that in franchise history.
Gray, who had struggled at times with big innings, especially early in his outings, was optioned June 29 to Triple-A Albuquerque in hopes of developing greater consistency in his approach. He made two starts, going 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA before being recalled, and came out strong from the outset, leaning on his 97-mph fastball working the edges of the plate.
“I think Jon was pitching with a lot of conviction,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “I think he was determined today to get back on track.”
Gray (8-7) allowed one run on five hits in 7 1/3 innings while striking out six and walking none. He did not allow a hit until Jean Segura singled to start the fourth.
Ryon Healy’s one-out single in the fifth was the only other hit Gray allowed until Ben Gamel singled ahead of Chris Herrmann’s one-out RBI double in the eighth. Pinch-hitter Nelson Cruz beat out an infield single and Gray was relieved by Adam Ottavino, who retired the next two batters to quash the threat.
Wade Davis pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 27th save.
LeBlanc (5-1) allowed four runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings.
“It’s just not very much fun throwing in a park like this,” LeBlanc said. “Not for a guy that relies on late movement because that kind of gets taken away with the thin air. And then you have balls that carry further than it would in normal parks, and bigger outfield because the ball carries. It’s just not a good place to pitch. If you don’t have you’re A-plus game, it’s probably going to be a long night here.”
The Mariners played well most of the first half but have dropped six of their last eight.
“It’s been a rough week or so. Just really haven’t been able to connect all the pieces,” Herrmann said. “We’re not really hitting in timely situations. The defense has always been there, but it’s just one of those things. It’s baseball, man. It’s a hard sport. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs.”
Rockies: 2B D.J. LeMahieu was a late scratch because of lower back tightness. Utilityman Pat Valaika took his place in the starting lineup. … The day after earning his first career win in a relief outing, LHP Harrison Musgrave was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a right hip flexor strain. LHP Sam Howard was recalled from Albuquerque to fill his roster spot.
RHP Christian Bergman was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma the day after allowing five runs in 4 1/3 innings in a 10-7 loss to Colorado on Friday. RHP Matt Festa had his contract from Double-A Arkansas selected by Seattle before the game and made his major league debut when he came on in relief in the fifth inning. Arenado drove his first offering into center field for an RBI single.
Mariners: RHP Mike Leake (8-6, 4.36 ERA) has gone four innings in each of his last two starts after going seven or more innings in seven of his previous 17 outings.
Rockies: LHP Tyler Anderson (6-3, 3.76 ERA) has gone 2-0 with a 0.41 ERA over his last three starts.
By DENNIS GEORGATOS
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