LOS ANGELES – The A’s took the field Tuesday night with 100 games under their belt this season, but game No. 101 felt like the beginning of a new, unknown chapter.
It’s tough to know what to expect from a team after it trades away its No. 2 starter, its closer and its No. 3 hitter, as Oakland has done in the span of six days.
But the Post-Trade Era of the 2015 A’s got off to a heartening start with a 2-0 victory over the Dodgers behind Sonny Gray’s three-hitter.
Talk about the right day for the A’s to have their ace on the mound in dominant form.
Their ninth-inning relief situation is an unknown with Tyler Clippard having been dealt to the Mets. There’s a glaring hole in the middle of the batting order with Ben Zobrist having been shipped Tuesday to the Royals.
Gray, at least for one night, made that irrelevant. The bullpen was never even a consideration. The required offense was minimal.
“When Sonny’s out there, it’s a completely different mode,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “We’re expecting to win every time Sonny takes the hill. We expect to win every day, but it’s a different level whenever Sonny is out there.”
Gray (11-4) struck out nine and reclaimed the American League ERA lead at 2.16. He seemed to be pitching as if he felt the task fell squarely on his shoulders to deliver a gem and lift his team’s spirits following the trades of starter Scott Kazmir, Clippard and Zobrist, the latter of which happened Tuesday morning. But asked whether he felt an added sense of importance with this start, Gray was adamant with his response.
“Absolutely not,” he replied. “No matter who’s out there, who’s in the clubhouse, or who’s not, when the game starts you get your 25 guys out there, and you’re just trying to win a baseball game. I don’t think that’s going to change for us.”
Another timely storyline developed with right fielder Josh Reddick’s big night. After doubling and singling in his first two at-bats, Reddick belted a homer to right-center in the seventh to give Gray an important insurance run.
That all three hits came off lefty Brett Anderson was important. Reddick came in hitting just .164 with one of his 12 homers against lefties. But with Zobrist out of the picture, either Reddick or fellow-lefty hitter Sam Fuld figures to be in the lineup when a southpaw is on the mound.
Reddick’s made no secret that he wants to play more against lefties. He entered Tuesday with just 80 at-bats against them. In the A’s first game without the switch-hitting Zobrist, Reddick delivered.
“It was special for me,” he said. “I haven’t really had the opportunity (against lefties), but it seems like it’s gonna be that way with the trades that have happened. I’m obviously up to the task and looking forward to it.”
In his postgame media session, Melvin didn’t say Reddick would play regularly against lefties moving forward. But he did think it was important to pencil Reddick into the lineup Tuesday.
“A game like today, with all we had going on, I wanted my guys who are the most consistent guys for you out there,” Melvin said. “It doesn’t mean he’s gonna play every day against left-handers. … But with Vogt not in there, I really needed his presence in the lineup. Not only did he give us that, he swung the bat great.”
It’s anyone’s guess how the A’s (45-56) and their stripped-down roster respond over the final 61 games. But the mood was light after Tuesday’s win. Gray could gloat over his first career hit, a single he shot down the right-field line using one of Butler’s bats.
Melvin was more impressed with what his ace delivered on the mound.
“It can be a cloudy day (after a trade),” Melvin said. “… To be able to do that and give (the team) a good feeling after what was a rough day for everybody, you can’t say you expect it out of him, but you get used to the fact that he pitches games like he did today.”