HOUSTON — Rich Hill won’t be pitching Sunday, but the A’s will sub in one very high-profile replacement for him.
Sonny Gray will return from the disabled list earlier than expected and take the mound Sunday against the Astros, with Hill still hampered by a strained groin. Gray, who’s missed two starts with a strained trapezius muscle in his neck, was originally scheduled to make a rehab start for Single-A Stockton on Sunday and tentatively return to face the Cincinnati Reds on Friday.
Instead, the A’s will re-route their ace to Houston. Manager Bob Melvin said the team has no doubts Gray is feeling physically ready to go.
“We just changed our mind because we needed to have a pitcher tomorrow,” Melvin said before Saturday’s game. “And he’s thrown three bullpens, he’s thrown to hitters. We’re just skipping one step. I’m confident. Physically he feels great. It’s just a matter of getting out there and getting some results like we’re used to seeing out of him.”
Melvin said he talked to Gray over the phone, and that the right-hander is game for making an early return.
“He just wants to pitch and he sees how things go,” Melvin said. “He’s a team guy and wants to help out his team. He knows we’re going to be behind the 8-ball in what we were gonna be able to do tomorrow.”
The other issue is whether Gray returns and shows the All-Star caliber stuff he displayed before he hit rough times early in the season. He is 0-4 with a 10.38 ERA over his past five starts. The final two of those, Gray said, came after his trapezius muscle really began acting up. He was scheduled to throw roughly five innings, or 80 pitches, Sunday for Stockton.
“I think a lot of the command issues stem from what was going on with his trap, where he wasn’t able to extend like he wanted to,” Melvin said.
Hill’s groin strain was not showing any improvement from Friday, so the A’s scrapped plans for him to throw on the side to see how he felt. Hill is confident he’ll miss minimal time, and Melvin said the A’s are tentatively looking at his return next weekend during a series at Cincinnati. Because they have off-days Monday and Thursday, they can cover for his absence with their current rotation and not put Hill on the disabled list.
“Sometimes when you’re the one competing, you don’t want to miss time,” Hill said. “But especially with these off-days, it works out where you miss one start, instead of pushing it and going out and seeing what happens, (and) it could turn into a month or longer.”
Left fielder Coco Crisp, who's been bothered by a sore heel, is not in Saturday's lineup. Melvin pulled Crisp from Friday night's game in the fourth inning after the A's fell behind by a lopsided margin.