Sonny Gray living up to hype after first three starts


In his first three starts for New York, Gray has tossed six innings, struck out at least five batters, and allowed only two earned runs in each outing, while demonstrating impressive command of an effective four-pitch arsenal.
Gray's first two starts for the Bombers came on the road, and saw the Yankee offense yield just a single run of support in the two outings. 
But his third helped cap off a two-game home sweep over the New York Mets in the Bronx, as he donned the pinstripes for the first time in his big league career.
"I was just trying to go out there and pitch my game and not let anything from the outside affect my mindset or what I really want to be out there to do," Gray told reporters after the game. "Hopefully we can get something going here."
An unwelcome plethora of injuries to the Yankees rotation has made the addition of Gray -- the most sought-after pitcher in baseball prior to the July 31 deadline -- that much more important for New York, as the team shifts into high gear moving full speed ahead with the postseason in their sights.
The haul Oakland got for Gray, who remains under team control through the 2019 season, was considerable; but the surplus of farmhand talent stockpiled by the Yankees helped clear the way for the acquisition of a first-rate pitcher like Gray. Luckily for the Yankees, he's been as good as advertised.
Each of Gray's three starts for New York has resulted in remarkably similar fashion:
August 3 vs. Cleveland: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 6 K, 3 BB, 0 HR, 98 pitches
August 10 vs. Toronto: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 6 K, 4 BB, 0 HR, 103 pitches
August 15 vs. New York: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 5 K, 2 BB, 1 HR, 104 pitches
That kind of consistency is what the Yankees rotation has been largely lacking outside of the performance of Luis Severino, who has taken a huge leap in his first full season as a starter. The Yankees bullpen has been as good as any in the second half, but injuries to key starters like CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka have hamstrung New York's momentum as they look to put pressure on the Red Sox for the AL East crown.
Though one pitcher can't make or break the success of an entire club, Gray has been exactly what the doctor ordered for the second-place Yankees.
Over his last nine starts of the season, Gray has pitched to a dazzling 1.88 ERA while amassing 53 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings. Batters are hitting .175 against him over that span, and he's continued to elicit ground balls at nearly a league-best rate. Only Toronto's Marcus Stroman has induced a higher rate of ground balls (62.8%) than Gray (56.1%), among American League starters with at least 110 innings pitched, per FanGraphs data.
That specialty plays very well in a hitter-friendly ballpark like Yankee Stadium, and is part of what made Gray such an in-demand arm targeted by contenders at the deadline this year. Another newly acquired Yankees starter, Jaime Garcia, is also among the best pitchers in baseball when it comes to inducing grounders. Gray's 56.1% mark ranks sixth in the Majors, while Garcia's 54.6% mark ranks ninth.
While the Yankees offense will continue to pound the long ball to put runs on the board, their new counterparts on the mound Gray and Garcia will be hoping to keep opposing hitters from doing the same. 
So far, Gray has answered the call. The Yankees will have a tough decision to make should they find themselves in another Wild Card play-in game as they did in 2015, over who should take the hill for that all-important match-up. Gray has playoff experience dating back to his time with the A's, but the 23-year-old flamethrower Severino has been sensational all year (despite a career-worst 8-ER performance in his last outing on August 12).
Whatever comes of this 2017 season for the Bronx Bombers -- a year that began as a cautiously optimistic but relatively low-pressure season for the young core of rookie call-ups -- the fact that Sonny Gray will be a central component in the rotation should be reason for excitement for Yankees fans. 
The Bombers are charging into the end of the decade with increased financial flexibility, a rising number of top prospects finding success at the next level, and a promising top-four unit bolstering the rotation with Severino, Gray, Tanaka and breakout rookie Jordan Montgomery. Who knows what the next few free agency windows might add to an already formidable roster as well.
The Yankees head to Queens Wednesday night to start the second leg of the four-game Subway Series against the Mets after two straight wins in the Bronx, as Garcia eyes his first win as a Yankee just 24 hours after Gray earned his.