The 2019 season was a bounce back one for Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray. He was coming off of a down year with the New York Yankees in 2018 when the Reds acquired him in a trade and gave him a contract extension. The organization felt that they could change a few things up and he could return to the pitcher he had shown himself to be in the past. And boy were they correct. He became an All-Star en-route to making 31 starts and throwing 175.1 innings for the Reds. That came with a 2.87 ERA and 205 strikeouts – joining teammate Luis Castillo to become the only pair of Reds pitchers to both top 200 strikeouts in the same season.
But after his final start of the year he went under the knife to have bone chips removed from his pitching elbow. While that surgery isn’t on par with Tommy John surgery, it’s never ideal when a pitcher has to get his arm operated on. On Wednesday afternoon Sonny Gray took the mound in a competitive environment for the first time since surgery and he came out the other side looking strong. The right-handed pitcher fired off 2.0 shutout innings against the Seattle Mariners at Goodyear Ballpark, picking up three strikeouts and getting three ground ball outs on the day.
“I was excited for today. It was nice. I was trying to throw my fastball, and just rip it the whole time. Checked a lot of boxes,” said Gray following his start. “I got my mind right, able to compete. Wish I could of got a leadoff hitter out, but other than that it was good.”
Getting back into that full on and let it go mode after surgery and some rehab is always interesting (speaking from someone who has had more surgeries than they’ve got fingers and toes – and I’ve got all of them). There’s a mental hurdle that you do need to overcome and get by, knowing that you can actually do it at 100%. Today was that test for Gray – at least at 100% of game speed and game action, which is always a little bit different from throwing bullpens or even live batting practice.
“I started throwing early (in the offseason). I could start throwing in six weeks (after the surgery). I came into spring and I worked on a lot. I was doing physical therapy for a while,” said Gray. “I started throwing way earlier, like 3-4 days a week just picking up a ball and playing light catch and then I started 4 days a week. Like every week. Then 5 days, then 6 days. Just kind of moving my arm. I feel good. I feel really, really good right now.”
A fully healthy Sonny Gray could be a scary thing for the rest of the National League. Especially considering what he did – particularly in the second half last year (1.94 ERA with 114 strikeouts in 93.0 innings over his final 15 starts) when he was dealing with bone chips in his pitching elbow.