Reds starter Sonny Gray pitches against the Cardinals on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
Photo: David Jablonski/Staff
Photo: David Jablonski/Staff

Surgery behind him, Sonny Gray on Reds’ 2020 starting rotation: ‘We can be better’

From across the room, somebody yelled, “Are you here to throw a sideline session.”

Gray laughed and held up a plastic cup. Inside was four dime-sized objects that resembled teeth. Those are what were removed from his elbow, described as loose bodies or loose impediments.

“D.J. told me I should put them under my pillow and see if the tooth fairy comes,” said Gray, referring to pitching coach Derek Johnson.

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“It was like somebody yanked four teeth out your mouth and put them in your elbow and told you, ‘Now go pitch,’” said Gray.

Gray pitched the entire season with those loose-body teeth jumping hither-and-yon inside his elbow.

And they began bothering him in spring training, almost to the point where he had the surgery before the season began.

“It was within a couple of days,” he said. “They bothered me and we pretty much decided that if I could throw within a couple of days we’d have them removed right then.”

Gray, though, gritted his teeth, calling it, “Pain management,” and made it through the season. Not only did he make it, he was 11-8 with a 2.87 earned run average. During his 31 starts, he never gave up more than six hits and never gave up more than four runs.

Asked if removing the impediments was a bad idea, judging his success, he smiled and said, “No, and it might make my slider better. That’s what everybody in the clubhouse is saying.”

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Gray said once he survived spring training and was told he wouldn’t make it worse by pitching, he decided to grin and bear it.

“We knew I couldn’t do anything to make it worse,” he said. “It was just like a pain tolerance thing, pain management. We were close to getting it done during spring training, but we kept throwing and it progressed well. It became kind of normal.”

Gray said the worst part was in between starts, after his elbow sometimes locked and always became swollen. The treatment was the killer.

“There were hours of treatment every day, brutal treatment,” he said. “It was brutal, but necessary. And any time there is a procedure necessary on your arm, you aren’t looking forward to doing it.

“For the first month, it was like a tolerance thing to find a routine to manage in between starts,” he said. “We figured out a plan to manage the inflammation.

“After the middle of the season everything seem to get in place, where they were supposed to be, then five starts ago it began acting up a little more.

“I had a couple of extra days off and got an MRI last Friday and pitched on Tuesday and knew that the plans was to have surgery after my last start,” he added.

“We knew what it was and knew it wouldn’t get worse and knew I couldn’t hurt myself, he said. “It was just a pain management type thing and we were able to do that throughout the season.”

Gray was told the surgery would not impair his offseason throwing and he’ll be fine by spring training, “And they told me I could be playing golf in two weeks. There will be nothing limiting going forward.”

Gray is looking forward to next season, with or without loose bodies in his elbow.

“As far as our rotation goes, we’ve already made some plans to get together in the offseason and do some throwing and things,” he said. “It is exciting, knowing the talent we have. Everyone is now familiar with each other and coming back we all know we want to be better than we’ve been.

“That’s important. We can be better. And that’s the mindset that we have going into the offseason. It was all fun for us this year, but what can we do to be better next year. It will be a really good rotation next year and that’s for sure.”

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