Former Oklahoma Sooner Jon Gray, the top pitching prospect in the Colorado Rockies farm system, bounced back from the worst start of his professional career with an impressive performance Wednesday night at ONEOK Field. Gray worked 5 2/3 scoreless innings and his teammates scored in three of the first four innings as the Tulsa Drillers opened a four-game homestand with a 7-0 victory over Northwest Arkansas.
The victory produced Tulsa's first 2-game winning streak of the season, while the defeat sent the Naturals to their 10th straight loss.
In his last start on April 11 in Corpus Christi, Gray surrendered seven hits and six runs and did not get out of the first inning. Wednesday's outing was an entirely different story for the University of Oklahoma product and Chandler, Oklahoma native. He gave up only two hits and two walks in 5 2/3 scoreless innings. Gray also registered five strikeouts while nearly cutting his season ERA in half.
For the second straight game, and only the second time this season, the Drillers got on the scoreboard first. After Gray worked a scoreless top of the first, Tulsa took a 1-0 lead in the bottom half of the inning. Taylor Featherston led off with a double, and Joey Wong followed with a base hit that brought him home.
The Drillers doubled their lead in the third. Tim Smalling, batting in the nine spot, drew a leadoff walk, stole second base and moved to third on catcher Parker Morin's throwing error. Featherston plated Smalling when he dropped a soft liner into right field for a base hit.
The margin swelled to 3-0 one inning later when the Drillers again put their leadoff hitter on base as Ryan Casteel drew a walk. After Casteel advanced to third on a passed ball and a sacrifice bunt, he scored on a double by first baseman Harold Riggins.
Tulsa put the game out of reach with a pair of late, two-run innings. Smalling and Featherston opened the seventh with consecutive singles. Smalling eventually scored on an error by first baseman Mark Threlkeld, while Featherston made it 5-0 on a base hit by Dustin Garneau.
In the eighth, Brian Humphries was hit by a pitch and Riggins followed with his first home run of the season to complete the scoring.
Gray's effort helped to continue an impressive run for the Drillers pitching staff. The shutout was the team's second straight and extended Tulsa pitchers scoreless streak to 19 straight innings. They have surrendered only two runs in their last 34 innings (0.53 ERA).
The victory evened Gray's record at 1-1.
Offensively, the Drillers put their leadoff hitter on base in each of the first five innings.
Featherston led an 11-hit attack with four hits, while Riggins added three.
The Naturals were limited to only two hits as Ryan Arrowood and Cole White did not surrender a hit in a combined 3 1/3 innings in relief of Gray. One of the hits came off the bat of Oral Roberts University product Jared Schlehuber.
The two teams will play the second game of their four-game series Thursday night. Tyler Anderson (1-0, 0.82 ERA) will take the mound for the Drillers against Greg Billo (0-1, 16.20) of the Naturals. The game will begin at 7:05 p.m. at ONEOK Field.