Cincinnati Reds: Sonny Gray must replicate his bounce-back 2019 season

Sonny Gray was named the Reds Opening Day starter.

The Cincinnati Reds go into the 2020 season with high praise and a favorable schedule. The pitching staff as a whole looks to be in good shape but Opening Day starter Sonny Gray must follow up 2019’s bounce-back campaign with another solid season on the mound.

Gray played up to his potential in 2019 after the New York Yankees traded him to Cincinnati. Before the Reds agreed to the trade, Dick Williams and Nick Krall took a risk and signed Gray to a four-year/$38M contract extension. Gray’s extension came with risk because of his lack of success in New York.

He went 15-16 on the bump while wearing pinstripes and Sonny’s future started to look really, well, Gray. The Reds big give away in addition to a draft pick was Shed Long, who was moving up the ladder and had the makings of Cincinnati’s next second baseman.

Last year, Gray went 11-8 and could’ve had an even better record had the offense given him more run support. Gray’s ERA dropped from 4.90 to 2.87. For the first time in his career, according to FanGraphs, Gray finished with a K/9 rate above 10 while also striking out a career-high 205 batters.

One could argue that confidence played a huge role in Gray’s return to form, and pitching coach Derek Johnson could’ve had a lot to do with the right-hander’s turnaround. Johnson was Gray’s pitching coach at Vanderbilt and the two reunited in Cincinnati last season. Gray saw some of the best numbers of his career, particularly in terms of strikeout-rate and batting average against.

Gray is going into his eighth year in the big leagues at age 30 after putting together his best season since 2015 in Oakland. The Nashville-native put together a solid14-4 record that season with a career-best 2.73 ERA. The Reds cannot afford to allow Gray to fall off the map as he did from 2016-2018.

Gray’s potential to repeat what he did in 2019 is helped by a weak schedule that includes the likes of the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates. Gray also doesn’t have to carry the weight of the rotation on his back as he did in Oakland with Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer pitching behind him.

Sonny Gray has gone through his share of ups and downs and last year proved that he can bounce back once again, and in a big way. There is a very real possibility that this team can make a deep run in the postseason with a likely repeat of Gray’s 2019 season.