Ex-Rockie Gray looks forward to leading young Rangers staff

SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) — Jon Gray is out of the thin air of Colorado and into the Texas Rangers’ rotation.

“It’s a breath of fresh air. It almost feels like another life,” Gray said Wednesday at the Rangers’ spring training home. “It helps me enjoy baseball more, too.”

It wasn’t a reflection on his time with the Rockies, just a change of scenery. And away from hitter-friendly Coors Field, too.

“It’s kind of a new look at everything,” he said. “It just sparks some more energy.”

A new shade of Gray, indeed.

Gray, 30, pitched seven seasons for Colorado after being the Rockies’ first-round pick (third overall) in 2013. He signed a four-year, $56 million contract with Texas just before the lockout began in December.

He goes to the top of the Rangers’ young rotation that will include Martin Perez, Taylor Hearn and Dane Dunning.

“It’s definitely cool to be in this position. I can be helpful to the younger guys. But it’s also exciting because I know we’re starting something that’s going to last a while. It’s really cool to be a part of that.

Manager Chris Woodward likes what he’s seen so far off the field. Gray will make his first start for the Rangers on Thursday against the Oakland A’s.

“He’s been great. I’m not asking him to do that,” Woodward said Wednesday. “I want him to get fully comfortable with the organization. Great attitude, really good example for the younger guys. Just the way he works, the openness to dialogue and the way he talks about pitching.”

Because Gray signed early, he was able to get a head start on adjusting to the new surroundings.

“I had enough time to discuss with the pitching coaches what they were looking for me to work on, so I took those things and really worked on them. There was a couple months where we didn’t speak at all but I knew what they wanted from me.”

As a result, Gray said he had a fairly normal winter, even with the lockout preventing contact with the new team for 99 days.

“But having new things to work on was also fun. … I’m progressing at the right pace. All the (new) stuff has been working.”

That included some different pitch grips and working on fastball location.

His 4.59 ERA with Colorado last year matched his career numbers over seven seasons in the Mile High city with a team that made two postseason appearances in his time there.

“There’ll be things I’ll miss about it, but just playing in consistent ballparks all the time will be consistent,” Gray said.

Coming to the American League ordinarily would have meant not batting as a pitcher just for a while, but now with the universal DH in place, Gray is ready to move on. “I was lucky enough to get one homer (with the Rockies), so I feel retired as a hitter,” he said.

The Rangers overhauled their roster after losing 102 games last season, 35 games behind AL West and league champion Houston.

New addition Mitch Garver has never worked with Gray, nor has he faced him as a hitter, but the new Texas catcher is looking forward to doing so.

Garver was acquired from Minnesota last week and figures to share time with either Jose Trevino or Jonah Heim, whichever of the two holdovers makes the team.

“Mitch is going to get the bulk of the at-bats,” Woodward said last week. “How much he catches is going to be up to health.”

Garver thought a move was possible, but he said he was still caught off guard.

“I had sensed something like this might be coming. But I thought I was going to get traded for pitching, not necessarily for a Gold Glover.

“It did take me by surprise a little bit, mostly just shock, and then it was filled with excitement.”

That was Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who won the fielding award at third base for the Rangers in 2020 before switching to shortstop. He wasn’t with the Twins long before being sent to the New York Yankees in a deal that included another catcher, Gary Sanchez, heading for Minnesota.

Garver, for now, is slated to hit third in the Texas lineup, behind the Rangers’ two big free-agent acquisitions of the offseason — second baseman Marcus Semien and shortstop Corey Seager.

No wonder Garver said he “can’t wait to get to Texas” and is bullish on the Rangers’ chances this season.

“It’s exciting. This division is kind of up in the air. We got to build a team first and see how we play together.”

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