Reds starter Gray ready to get things started in spring training

Sonny Gray interview (Feb. 17, 2021)

Pitchers and catchers will hold first workout Thursday in Goodyear, Ariz.

Sonny Gray just wanted to get a baseball in his hand, run around in the Arizona sun and find his happy place: the mound.

Although Wednesday was the official spring training reporting date for Cincinnati Reds pitchers and catchers in Goodyear, Ariz., Gray arrived Sunday. He had to take a COVID-19 test and then another test a couple of days later as the wait to get on the field continued.

In short, for Gray, baseball in 2021 was looking a lot like baseball in 2020 with the coronavirus pandemic hovering over the game and affecting daily routines.

“It’s been a weird five days out here,” said Gray on a Zoom call with reporters. “The reason we came out here was to play baseball and get this thing started — not sit around and do nothing.”

When Gray does get to start pitching, he’ll be one of the big reasons the Reds think they can contend this season after finishing 31-29 last season and claiming one of the National League’s eight berths in the expanded playoffs.

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Gray was 5-3 with a 3.70 ERA in his second season in Cincinnati. He enjoyed his experience and was excited about the direction the Reds were heading, so when his name was thrown around in trade rumors over the winter, he was frustrated. He experienced waves of emotion and tried to ignore the trade possibilities while being the best husband and dad he could be back home in Nashville, Tenn.

“I just tried to not have it surround and consume my life,” Gray said. “There’s really nothing I can do. It (ticked) me off a little bit. I’m not going to lie. I have no ill feelings. I completely understand. It’s nice to be wanted. It’s nice to be here. I like the people here. I like where we’re at.”

The Reds made a push for the playoffs in 2019 by trading for Trevor Bauer, and the push continued in the winter of 2020 with the high-profile free agent signings of Wade Miley, Shogo Akiyama, Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas. This winter, they went the opposite direction, cutting payroll by trading Raisel Iglesias and deciding not to offer contracts to Archie Bradley, Curt Casali, Brian Goodwin and others. Their biggest acquisitions — Sean Doolittle and Dee Strange-Gordon — were relatively minor compared to the free-agent splash they made a year earlier.

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Gray understands the front office’s predicament.

“They were kind of put in a really tough position with the way the pandemic hit,” Gray said. “You start to build in 2019, and you start to try and look for this big push in 2020, 2021 and 2022. There’s a little gap or window or whatever you call it. You can clearly see the organization trying to do that. Then you sign these guys — Moose and Castellanos and Shogo — and you trade for Trevor. You clearly can see in 2020, we were going to push our chips in and try to do this thing. Then you get hit with this pandemic. I don’t know the financial burden the ownership group is taking. I’m not there. I don’t know truly know. But you make this push to go in for 2020 and your season gets stopped. It just flips your world upside down. Now you come back, and you’re still uncertain about what’s going on.”

That uncertainty will linger throughout the spring, but at least there’s little or no chance all of baseball will shut down as happened on March 12 a year ago. Pitchers and catchers will hold their first workout Thursday. Then position players report Sunday with the first full team workout happening a day later.

This time of year is always full of optimism no matter what happened in the offseason, and that was the approach third-year manager David Bell was taking Wednesday.

“My overall feelings right now are just of excitement to get our group back together,” Bell said. “The way I see it, our team is still in place. It’s not exactly the same team. Obviously, we lost a couple guys, but for the most part, it’s the same group. And it’s the same group that through great challenges over the last couple of years, especially last year, which all teams had, really overcame a lot. There were several times during last season where things could have gone the other way, and guys stayed with it. It was important to our players and to our team to keep going on and continue to build a winning environment. It finally showed up the last few weeks of the season. All the hard work finally paid off.”

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