SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Right-hander Jon Gray threw in high-stakes collegiate games in front of large and lively crowds for the University of Oklahoma. But pitching in front of dozens Thursday in the Rockies' intrasquad game -- his first competitive act of his first Spring Training -- brought out the jitters.
"I was confident because the bullpen went really good, but when I got out there, it seemed like [home plate] was 10 feet back," Gray, the club's top-ranked prospect in 2013 by MLB.com, said. "I was like, 'Wow, look how far away that is.'"
After giving up two hits and a walk, Gray harnessed his nerves, found his location and unleashed the pitches that made him the third overall pick in last summer's First-Year Player Draft. Gray, 22, worked prospect Rosell Herrera into a 1-2-3 double play, then forced Angelys Nina into an inning-inning grounder. He struck out two in the next inning, which was spotless.
Righty Eddie Butler, also 22 and an anticipated prospect (ranked No. 3 in the organization), pitched two innings and gave up one run on three hits, with one strikeout and a deft pickoff move.
Many of the details of the 4-4 intrasquad tie were forgotten as soon as they happened, but Gray and Butler made stunning impressions.
"I'm sure those young guys were amped up," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. "Even though it was an intrasquad, they were going out there facing big league hitters for the first time. I thought they handled themselves real well."
Butler, the Rockies' supplemental first-round pick in 2012, struck out outfield/first base prospect Kyle Parker (ranked No. 9) with a runner at second in the third inning before giving up Kent Matthes' RBI single. But Butler ended that inning and his outing by picking Matthes off first. Butler said he turned off his nervous mind and let his arm do the work.
"I tried not even to pay attention to who was in the box, honestly," Butler said. "I told [catcher Mike McKenry] as soon as I went out there, 'I'm throwing whatever you call. I'm not shaking you. … I need to think as little as possible right here. Rock 'n fire. Let's go.'"
Gray said his first shaky inning isn't unusual.
"I'm usually that way in the first inning, but there was so much tension because it was the first time I'd seen a batter in a long time," said Gray, who went a combined 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA at Rookie-level Grand Junction and Class A Advanced Modesto. "Your body takes over your mind for a little bit, then you've got to find that rhythm."
In his second frame, Gray caught Corey Dickerson looking at a pitch on the outside corner, then threw with all his might to entice Brandon Barnes to swing under a high fastball.
Like the Gray pitch to Barnes, Butler reached for all he had for the strikeout pitch to Parker.
"It was supposed to be up and in, and I threw it down and away," Butler said. "It was just a four-seam fastball."
Gray will make his Cactus League debut against the Mariners on Monday at 1:05 p.m. MT in Peoria. Butler will debut that night at 7:10, against the D-backs. There will be more hype and noise, but in a way, it'll be a little more comfortable.
"You're used to pitching in front of a couple thousand at your home games, then you get out there [for the intrasquad game] and it's like crickets," Butler said. "It's a completely different feel. You hear everybody talking on the field."
Aquino evaluated after being hit in head by line drive
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies left-handed prospect Jayson Aquino was taken to a local hospital to be evaluated for a concussion after he was hit in the left side of head by a line drive from the first batter he faced, Rafael Ynoa, in Thursday's intrasquad game.
Aquino, 21, who pitched at short-season Class A Tri-City and Class A Asheville last year and is considered a prospect because of his pitch mix, rolled away from the force of the ball, but manager Walt Weiss said the ball caught him squarely.
"I couldn't tell if it hit his glove first, but looking at the replay, it hit him in the head and he kind of rolled with it," Weiss said. "I wouldn't even call it a glancing blow. It got him pretty good. That was scary."
Aquino, No. 12 on the club's 2013 Top 20 Prospects, was conscious and walked off the field, but the Rockies wanted him to be evaluated.
Culberson aiming for utility role off bench
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Right-handed-hitting Charlie Culberson batted .297 in 99 at-bats during a late-season callup with the Rockies last year, despite playing out of position.
A one-time supplemental first-round pick of the Giants, Culberson was an infielder who'd never played in the outfield -- until manager Glenallen Hill gave him three outfield appearances at Triple-A Colorado Springs just before the Rockies summoned him. He appeared 27 times in the outfield and four times in the infield for the Rockies.
This year, Culberson, who turns 25 on April 10, has a shot at his first Opening Day roster spot as a utility infielder. Paul Janish, who has played with the Reds and Braves, is challenging for that spot as well. The Rockies are looking to replace Jonathan Herrera, who was traded to the Red Sox during the winter.
Culberson, who appeared in six games with the Giants in 2012 before being traded to the Rockies for second baseman Marco Scutaro, appreciates his time in the outfield even though he is more comfortable in the infield. He is most comfortable at second, but can play shortstop and third.
"It felt like I was playing a new game in the outfield, which is neat for me," Culberson said. "Here I am, 24 years old and had played baseball my whole life. It was fun, something I knew I could work on every day, taking different routes on different balls. It was a challenge, but it was a fun challenge.
"Ninety-five percent of the time I was in the outfield last year. I had a couple of starts at second and it did feel weird going back."
Culberson spends some time in the outfield during batting practice, but can concentrate on his more familiar positions and try to establish himself in the Majors.
"At the point and time I'm at in my career, I just have to keep working at all positions to stay in the big leagues," Culberson said. "If something happens and I'm able to get the opportunity to start, I'm going to take advantage of it. But today, I'm a utility guy, which is OK with me because we are at the top level."
• Weiss said the sky is the limit for third baseman Nolan Arenado, who became the first National League rookie to win a Rawlings Gold Glove Award last year.
"Nolan looks great. I think he's one of the guys that has stood out for me early in camp," Weiss said. "His approach at the plate, more than anything else, he just looks like he's got his legs underneath him, and he understands what he's trying to do. I really expect this guy to play in multiple All-Star Games. I think he's that type of player."
• Left-handed-hitting center-field candidates Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson each singled and scored in their first at-bats of Thursday's intrasquad game. Each of them batted leadoff.
Non-roster outfielder Jason Pridie and non-roster catcher Jackson Williams hit consecutive home runs, both off Raul Fernandez, in the sixth inning.
• Right-hander Christian Bergman, 25, who earned Texas League All-Star honors by striking out 111 and going 8-7 with a 3.37 ERA last season in 27 starts at Double-A Tulsa, threw two scoreless innings. He gave up one walk and one hit.