Sonny Gray

Yankees starting pitcher Sonny Gray allowed one run over five innings in a win over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night in Atlanta

By Randy Miller

ATLANTA — Right-hander Sonny Gray seemed to take exception to a question about his role this year after he completed a standout spring training with a strong outing in the Yankees‘ final game before Opening Day, a 5-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night.

Lined up to start the Yankees’ fourth game of the season Sunday in Toronto, Gray doesn’t want to be known as a No. 4 starter after being the Oakland Athletics ace in recent years.

“I don’t think where you’re starting the season or what game you’re pitching (matters),” Gray said after lowering his ERA to 1.98 with a one-run, five-inning outing in which he allowed three hits, struck out seven and didn’t walk anyone. “I have extremely high expectations for myself. Whenever I go out there and throw, I expect to be great.”

The Yankees would settle for very good. That’s what they were hoping to get last July when they gave up three elite prospects to get Gray, a 2015 AL All-Star who has a 125-123 record and 3.93 ERA over five big-league seasons.

Gray gave them a lot of mediocracy late last season, as he was 4-7 with a 3.72 ERA in 11 starts for the Yankees before having one good start and one bad one in the postseason.

The 28-year-old Nashville native has been very good this spring going 2-0 in four starts while allowing four runs, three earned, over 13 2/3 innings with 16 strikeouts.

“I think it’s probably by far the best spring I’ve had and it’s probably the best I feel coming out of a spring as well,” Gray said.

Gray expects to be better this season because he’s better adjusting to being a Yankee.

“Being around the guys all spring and just being here for a whole spring to get ready, I feel way more comfortable and ready,” Gray said.

Manager Aaron Boone thinks the comfort issue can be huge for Gray.

“No question,” he said. “It’s a lot when you go somewhere at the trade deadline with all of the adjustments outside of just the baseball and the field.

“So I think just coming in and knowing the guys and being much more comfortable, being in a good place, having that relationship already with (pitching coach) Larry (Rothschild) … hopefully his familiarity and his comfort level with his teammates and the organization will just allow him to flourish.”

Boone is more optimistic after seeing Gray look so good this spring.

“Man, I thought he really started to build some momentum the last couple of starts,” he said. “He threw in that minor-league game (last week) and was really good and I thought (Monday) was great. I thought his fastball was really good. His breaking ball was there. He was really pitch efficient.

“A good final start for him going into the season. I’m really excited about that. He set a great tone, too. I thought he worked quick. He pounded the zone. That was a really nice outing for him.”

Gray wants outings like this to be the norm. He was consistently good when he was healthy in Oakland and he’s confident he’ll be consistently good again.

“I feel really good with where I’m at,” Gray said. “My body feels really good and my arm feels great and I’m ready to go.”