Gray Finding Consistent Success

Championships are often won and lost based on the effectiveness of a team's bullpen. That is good news for the Sacramento River Cats, who have gotten outstanding work from their bullpen all season. Leading that charge is River Cats' closer Jeff Gray, who has 12 saves and a 1.82 ERA and is getting the consistent results he has been working for since last off-season.

The 2008 season was a yo-yo kind of season for Jeff Gray on the mound. A lack of command of his pitches led to inconsistency for Gray throughout the season, and it showed in his numbers, as the right-hander posted a 4.39 ERA in 67.2 innings for Sacramento and allowed four runs in 4.2 innings with the Oakland A's in September.

Gray spent the off-season working hard in Phoenix with A's bullpen coach and former Minor League Pitching Coordinator Ron Romanick on a number of mechanical changes. He tested those changes in the Arizona Fall League, where he found immediate success, posting a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings. That success carried over into spring training, where Gray pitched well in big league camp.

This year has also been a yo-yo year for Gray, but not on the mound. The A's 32nd round pick in 2004 has been back and forth between Oakland and Sacramento, making three trips to the big leagues during the first half of the major league season. Each of Gray's three trips have lasted only a few days and one appearance. The length of his stays in the big leagues has had nothing to do with his results, however, as he has retired all five batters he has faced.

Despite not getting much action during his trips to Oakland, Gray has found the big league stints valuable.

"Every time I go up there, it's just more experience and with that experience, you get more comfortable and a little better every time. It's been great," Gray said.

When he hasn't been flying around the country to join the big league club, Gray has been a reliable back-end of the bullpen arm for Sacramento manager Tony DeFrancesco. Gray has made 32 appearances for the River Cats this season, and he has racked up 12 saves, the most on the team. He has a 1.82 ERA and has allowed only two homeruns in 34.2 innings. After allowing Pacific Coast League batters to hit .313 off of him last season, Gray is limiting the opposition to a .205 average in 2009. His walk rate has also improved, as he has walked only six in 34.2 innings this season after walking 23 in 67.2 innings in 2008.

Gray credits his improvement to those mechanical changes he made during the off-season.

"They have made a great improvement in my pitching and with the quality of pitches themselves. They have given me the consistency that I wanted," Gray said.

Being with the A's has allowed Gray to touch base with Romanick, although there hasn't been anything that the A's bullpen coach has had to adjust for Gray thus far.

"He kind of lets me do my own thing. He knows just as well as I do what I need to do to be successful. He kind of keeps me on track and says ‘how's it going?' And I say, ‘good' and that's all he really needs from me," Gray said.

"It's good to see him and to see if there is anything else that he sees."

Winning has been the biggest constant for Gray over the past two years. He has earned four league titles during that time – two with Sacramento and two with the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League. The River Cats look to be on their way to the post-season once again this year, as the team currently holds a 10 game lead over second-place Fresno. Sacramento's 60 wins are the most in the Pacific Coast League. The next closest team has 54 wins.

The wins have continued to come even as the River Cats' roster has undergone almost constant changes thanks to injuries at the major league level and trades. Gray sees the overall attitude of the team as being a key for the team's ability to play well despite a changing roster.

"This team is a good team. It's a unique team. Everyone likes to have a lot of fun. Everyone knows what their jobs are and what needs to be done to get a ‘W' and everybody seems happy doing their part in getting it done," Gray said.

The other constant in Gray's career over the past two years has been that he has been virtually pitching non-stop. For the past two off-seasons, Gray has participated in the Arizona Fall League and he has reported to spring training early as part of big league camp. Gray isn't likely to return to the AFL this off-season and wouldn't mind if he got a true off-season this year.

"If the A's come up to me and tell me that they would like me to play some winter ball, I will, but I'm looking forward to the little bit of vacation time and seeing some friends and family that I didn't get to see the last two off-seasons. I'm looking forward to a little relaxation and letting the arm get a little break," Gray said.

"I think [pitching all of the time] comes with the job and you kind of have to do that, so I'm fine with it. Every now and then, though, a couple of days off isn't so bad. We'll see. As of now, I'd like to have a little bit of a break."

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