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Rockies' Gray puts home unbeaten mark on line vs. Phillies

DENVER -- After losses in two straight starts on the road, Jon Gray will pitch at home Saturday for the Colorado Rockies against the Philadelphia Phillies.

In Gray's last home start on July 19, the Rockies flattened the San Diego Padres 18-4. Support has been scant lately for Gray (3-2, 5.52 ERA), who will be opposed by Nick Pivetta (4-6, 5.42). Gray lost 3-2 at St. Louis on July 26 and 3-1 at Washington on Sunday. In those outings, Gray had one walk and 14 strikeouts in 12 innings and gave up five earned runs for a 3.57 ERA.

"I think those are the most fun ones, good pitchers' duels," Gray said. "I don't know what it is, but it just seems like there's more going on."

Gray, 25, has walked a season-high three batters in just two of his nine starts and has 15 walks and 46 strikeouts in 44 innings. The Rockies are 6-3 in games started by Gray, who is 2-0 with a 3.71 ERA in three home starts. This will be Gray's seventh start since he returned June 30 after missing 2 1/2 months with a stress fracture in his left foot.

Asked about his low walk total of late, Gray said it had more to do with shaking off the rust after his long layoff.

"I think just being more comfortable every time I go out, just build starts up," Gray said. "I think it's a little easier to find your rhythm faster. You're not kind of spraying pitches left and right. Just that comfortable feeling I have now. I know where the ball's going to go."

Pivetta won his last start Monday against Atlanta, allowing three hits and one run in six innings with one walk and five strikeouts. The Phillies are 5-10 in starts by Pivetta, who is 1-2 with a 3.89 ERA in six starts at home and 3-4 with a 6.79 ERA in nine road starts.

The 24-year-old right-hander has fared much better against left-handed hitters, limiting them to a .214 average and .627 OPS and two home runs in 165 plate appearances. By contrast, right-handed hitters are batting .290 with a .991 OPS against Pivetta with 14 home runs in 181 plate appearances.

Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure attributed those skewed figures to left- and right-handed hitters to "a young guy working on command" without getting more specific.

"He's going to be really good," McClure said, "(because of) the way the ball comes out of his hand, his aptitude, his work ethic. He's got above-average velocity and it plays higher than what it says -- 94-96 mph but it plays higher, at least that's what the hitters tell me. There's some carry to it, great extension."

McClure cited a start July 25 against the powerful Houston Astros, a 5-0 loss for Pivetta, when he gave up one hit and one run through five innings and retired the first batter in the sixth before allowing five hits and four runs in the inning.

After that outing, Pivetta faced Atlanta in his last start Monday and was the winning pitcher in Philadelphia's 7-6 victory.

"He's really close to breaking one of the barriers, and there's usually three barriers," McClure said. "He's already got the hardest one, the confidence part. And he's aggressive. Now we just have fine-tune some things."

And the other barriers?

"Being able to control your emotions," which McClure said is coming with Pivetta, "and once you're able to do that be able to stop the bleeding, which he did his last game."

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