John Smoltz doesn’t believe that Sonny Gray will resolve his Yankee Stadium dilemmas by analyzing footage from recent outings. No good can come from it.
Instead, the Hall-of-Fame pitcher and current MLB Network analyst suggests that Gray, who currently owns an inflated 8.25 ERA in eight starts in the Bronx, should rewind his mind in order to reclaim confidence and remove his title as an adrift rotation piece.
The trick? Open the vault and re-watch old clips that ended on a high note.
“What I think he’s got to get back to is watch the film of success that he’s had,” Smoltz said on MLB Network Friday. “Go back to Oakland, go back to where you had the fastball hovering around the knees with the killer breaking ball. I think analytics and information is actually changing him as a pitcher… I think a four-seam fastball down at the knees with that wipe-out power breaking ball is enough.
“So, he’s in this mindset — I’m just guessing here — that when I pitch in New York, I’ve got to be perfect. I’ve got to change my game. I can’t give up a fly ball. When you pitch in Oakland — not that it’s a false sense of security — you pitch in Oakland with a fastball command… So, I think you have to re-program your brain to go, ‘How do I effectively pitch in the place that everyone’s talking to me about.'”
Smoltz also said that Gray can atone for his mistakes by having a slow, but deliberate approach on the mound.
Instead of thinking about what could go wrong with the next pitch, Smoltz recommends Gray should make an effort to step off the mound, recall a few good pitches he’s made in past situations, and then go back to the rubber and execute with conviction in his stuff. According to Smoltz, that plan worked well during select low points of his career.
Gray’s worst outing of the season came last Saturday in a 11-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox. In just 2.1 innings, the 28-year-old allowed six runs on seven hits after 68 pitches, and by the time Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone reached the mound to take the ball from Gray, he was serenaded with merciless boos from the home crowd.
Fortunately for Gray, he’s remained positive this week, heading into a start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday at Rogers Centre.
“It’s not hard to do,’’ Gray recently told the New York Post. “I can move on fairly easily. I feel like things don’t get to me and have any carryover to my next start. With any situation, I can look at it, address it, learn from it and move on. That’s kind of the way I approach not just baseball, but life, as well.”
Although the Boston fiasco sticks out like a sore thumb, things were trending upward for Gray last month. In his previous five starts, he was 3-2 with a 3.23 ERA, and he struck out 29 hitters while walking only six across 30.2 total innings.
“Realistically, in the month of June, I was moving in the right direction,” Gray told the Post. “And the very last day of the month, I had a start like that. But I don’t take it as that month being lost. I take it as progress in the right direction and then a big bump in the road. It was definitely a struggle, but I don’t let one start affect how I think of myself and the work I was doing.”
Boone’s stance on Gray is quite similar. Rather than taking the glass half-empty approach, Boone sees a glass half-full and nearly half a baseball season left for Gray to turn things around in the midst of a pennant race.
“I think he has what it takes to pitch here and pitch successfully here, absolutely,” Boone told the YES Network last weekend. “I think we’ve seen enough good outings from him where he’s built a little bit of momentum. I know physically he’s in a good place, as far as his stuff. Now we’ve just got to unlock it and I feel like one good outing at home and he can get the ball rolling here as well.
“… We’ve just got to keep working through it with him and trust that the stuff we’re seeing is real good and we’re seeing enough good outings. We’ve just got to keep working him through it to where he gets really locked in that groove. I feel like it’s in there.”
If Gray rebounds against the Blue Jays this weekend — and his 3.28 road ERA and career-1.88 ERA at Rogers Centre suggests he can — the Yankees will breathe a sigh of relief.
But if the goal is for Gray to string together a number of strong performances, he’ll need to destroy his kryptonite, which has been pitching in the home uniform.
Perhaps Smoltz’s idea can be the secret sauce to Gray’s revival.