Cincinnati Reds: Sonny Gray’s return will reignite the entire roster

There are plenty of weather related puns and jokes about sunshine that could be used to welcome back one of the Cincinnati Reds‘ All-Star pitchers. But the truth is, the forecast calls for scattered showers this weekend; so it might be a little Gray out.

Sonny Gray is returning to the Cincinnati Reds rotation, and it could not come at a more perfect time. After starting the season on the injured list with a back muscle sprain, the hard-throwing righty is set to make his season debut on Saturday, facing one of the more lackluster lineups in baseball.

For Gray, it’s a chance to start out on the right foot with an efficient outing that will instill solid confidence moving forward. And for the Reds, it’s a chance to restore a pitching staff that has yet to find its identity.

Sonny Gray returns to the Reds rotation versus the Indians on Saturday.

One of the most important details in Gray’s return is the ripple effect it will have on personnel. A two-time All-Star, Sonny Gray cements what many expect to be a four-man rotation. (Albeit, five-man rotation if Jeff Hoffman continues to impress.)

Gray is back in while José De Léon and his 18 strikeouts will move to the bullpen. Despite being smacked around in his second appearance this season, no pitcher on the roster averages more strikeouts per nine innings than De Léon (17.4). While De Léon brings some fire to the bullpen, Sonny Gray will fuel the rotation.

Since 2019, Gray has carried an average of at least 10 strikeouts per nine innings. While this season is still a very small sample size, no starting pitcher other than Tyler Mahle is currently striking out batters at Gray’s typical pace. In short, the addition of Sonny Gray increases the Cincinnati Reds’ strikeout power on both ends of the pitching staff.

Reds fans should feel confident and excited about the 31-year-old’s return to the hill because the man himself sure is ready. Sonny Gray recently said that he’s feeling “really good.” In fact, Gray used the term “really good” multiple times in talks with the media and Mark Sheldon of MLB.com.

That’s music to the ears of David Bell and Derek Johnson, who have a pitching staff that has stumbled at times, giving up the third most homers in the National League. Last season, 60-percent of batted balls against Sonny Gray were ground balls. Only 14-percent were fly balls.

While many of the other pitchers on the team are getting lots of fly balls hit into the outfield, many of which are leaving the yard, Gray’s efficiency should keep the opposing lineup at bay while the Reds bats get to work early.

Gray’s strikeout ratio and ground ball ratio will not only help the lineup stay relaxed, but it also allows him to stay in games for at least six-innings. Yet another example of how Gray can make a significantly positive impact on personnel matters for the skipper and pitching coaches. So far, in nearly 40-percent of games played the Reds have used at least half of their bullpen in one game.

Can Sonny Gray give the Reds six solid innings in his first start? Maybe seven?

Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reported that “[Gray] will have no limitations when he face Cleveland.” If Gray is feeling that good, then starting out with a few six or seven inning games isn’t out of the question. Those types of long appearances can do wonders for a team by keeping the bullpen fresh till the end of the series.

Gray will get his first good chance to go deep into a game when he makes his season debut against Cleveland on Saturday. Blog Red Machine’s Scott Boyken pointed out in his series preview, as stellar as the Cleveland pitching staff is– their lineup is a far, far opposite. Only the Cubs are hitting worse than Cleveland’s .198 batting average.

Considering Sonny Gray‘s opponents only hit .203 against him in 2020 and .196 against him in 2019, it’s safe to say Sonny could shine in a long outing late Saturday afternoon. A long outing on a Saturday could set up the pitching staff to lock down a series win on Sunday.

Ultimately, the ripple effect that Sonny Gray will have on the team creates an invaluable type of depth. Using only two guys out of the bullpen, especially mid-series, can put a team in a much better position to win. We know the Reds can sweep the bad teams. But stealing sweeps against good teams, even just winning those series against the good teams, requires a complete and well-rounded pitching staff.

Sonny Gray has a .592 winning-percentage in the last two years, better than Luis Castillo and Trevor Bauer. He is a two-time All-Star who finished in the Top 10 for a Cy Young just two years ago. Gray’s return can rejuvenate the rotation, bolster the bullpen, loosen up the lineup, and help the Cincinnati Reds win more games. Welcome back, Sonny.