Rookie Sonny Gray will start for the Oakland A’s in Thursday’s Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers, manager Bob Melvin announced.
In going with Gray, the A’s bypassed All-Star and 18-game winner Bartolo Colon, their Game 1 starter whose spot would be up Thursday had Oakland stayed on rotation.
The decision sets up an enticing pitching rematch from Game 2 of Gray against Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander. Gray dazzled a sold-out Coliseum crowd that night with eight shutout innings in the A’s 1-0 win.
That performance in his postseason debut swung it in Gray’s favor, according to Melvin.
“It came down to that last start,” Melvin said. “... He’s a bulldog. Right away he established what he wanted to do in that game.”
Melvin said he was undecided if Colon would be a bullpen option for Game 5. But by skipping him for the start, it keeps Colon available for Game 1 of the AL Championship Series on Saturday at Boston should the A’s advance.
Gray will be starting on his normal four days’ rest Thursday, and with memories of his Game 2 dominance fresh in their minds, it’s not surprising the A’s went this direction. But it does place a lot on the shoulders of a 23-year-old with just 11 major league starts under his belt.
Gray will become just the second pitcher under the age of 24 to start the deciding game of a postseason series since 1997. The other? His teammate Jarrod Parker, who started for Oakland in last year’s Game 5 of the ALDS. Parker gave up four earned runs over 6 1/3 innings of a 6-0 defeat in which the A’s mustered just four hits against Verlander.
It could be gleaned that the decision to start Gray involved both Melvin and the front office.
“Obviously we had two great options there with Bartolo,” Melvin said. “We looked at it from a bunch of different angles. We have a lot of smart people in our front office and baseball operations, and the short of it is, it came down to Sonny's last game that he pitched in similar conditions in our ballpark.”
Gray held the Tigers to just four hits with nine strikeouts and two walks in Game 2. Parker commented on how calm Gray was in the middle of such high-intensity conditions, chatting freely in the dugout when the A’s were hitting.
A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie noticed a similar demeanor.
“Obviously you see the talent right away,” he said. “You see the power arm. Especially in Game 2, you look at how a young kid is gonna react. He went out there with all the confidence in the world and performed really well.”
Gray went 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA in 12 regular-season appearances (10 starts) since receiving his first big league call-up in July.
Colon, 40, went 18-6 and his 2.65 ERA ranked second in the American League. But his career numbers against Detroit are worth noting. He is 8-11 with a 5.37 ERA over 28 appearances (27 starts). That includes Friday’s Game 1, when he allowed three first-inning runs in what turned out to be a 3-2 loss.
Melvin said Colon took the news well.
“Imagine how difficult it was for me,” Melvin said. “This guy’s got 18 wins, the guys’ our ace and he’s been as consistent as you can be, and he’s a 40-year-old veteran. He made it easy on me. He just said ‘OK, I wanna win.’”
Melvin said “there is definitely a chance” that switch-hitting Alberto Callaspo is in the Game 5 starting lineup, presumably at second base in place of Eric Sogard. Melvin didn’t foresee any other lineup changes. **
Parker, pulled after 73 pitches from his Game 3 start with fatigue-like symptoms, is not being ruled out as a potential relief option Thursday, but Melvin said that’s only if his arm is feeling OK.
Right-hander Dan Straily experienced some mild back tightness in Game 4, one reason he was pulled after 76 pitches. Melvin characterized it as mild and probably a product of pitching in cool weather.