Gray carries confidence into Spring Training

Righty recorded 185 strikeouts during his rookie year in 2016

Gray carries confidence into Spring Training

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-handed pitcher Jon Gray has found more than a new manager. He's found that Bud Black is a kindred spirit.

Although the Rockies finished 75-87 last season, a rotation that consisted of two rookies in Gray and lefty Tyler Anderson, plus two other young righties in Chad Bettis and Tyler Chatwood, raised hopes for 2017.

It's Gray, 25, who has the size and power to possibly become a true No. 1 pitcher -- a dominating type that the club hasn't had since Ubaldo Jimenez was at his best in 2010. And possibly Black, a rare ex-pitcher who is managing the club, could offer insight that could help Gray reach those expectations.

"He's watched me throw a couple of times," Gray said before throwing Tuesday -- this time in the first official Spring Training workout for Rockies pitchers and catchers. "He's got some good advice. You can tell he has a pitching background. He knows what he's talking about. It's pretty cool that he does that -- walks around, talks to us and asks us about what we're working on."

At the end of Tuesday's session, Black met Gray -- selected out of the University of Oklahoma No. 3 overall in 2013 -- on the slope of the mound, talked and even demonstrated some pointers that could help with balance and direction.

"He made great strides last year in a number of areas. Performance, his confidence, really getting his feet on the ground as a Major League starting pitcher," Black said. "And he's got to continue to grow, continue to pass these tests that every young player has to pass, and continue to perform like a top-of-the-rotation Major League starter."

"He's very capable of doing those based on his talent, his work ethic and his passion to play."

After setting a Rockies rookie record with 185 strikeouts -- this after not making his first start until April 22 because of an oblique injury -- and posting a 3.60 fielding independent pitching ERA (4.61 traditional ERA), Gray seeks even better.

Black on pitching at Coors Field

His fastball rides in the 95-96 mph range, and he gets swings and misses with a slider that ranges 88 to slightly above 90. A curve, which he learned after nine trial performances in 2015, floats in at 77-79 mph and has surpassed his changeup, which has been traveling at the same speed as the slider, as his best off-speed pitch. But he hopes to rectify the changeup with a new grip.

"I'm trying to get to where I can get backspin on it," he said. "I don't want it to fall this way or that way. I just want it to be a slower fastball."

It's not just a new manager that has Gray excited. He detects a confidence that wasn't necessarily there during his previous trips to Spring Training.

"It's the most excited I've ever seen some of the guys around me -- you can tell it's different," Gray said. "Everybody's on the same page. We all know we've got a good shot and we're going in nose first and getting after it."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.