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OAKLAND – Much gets made about Sonny Gray’s feel for pitching, but he also has an instinct for when his team needs him the most.
A day after the A’s pitching staff took a beating, Gray was in top form as Oakland rolled to a 10-2 victory Sunday over Baltimore and captured a series from a team it might see again in the postseason.
The right-hander was in complete command, working his fastball all around the strike zone and using it to set up his curve and change-up. It was typical of what Gray has given the A’s of late. He’s 5-0 with a 2.24 ERA over his last six starts.
[INSTANT REPLAY: A's offense explodes as Gray stifles O's]
But he’s also developing a reputation for getting his team back on the winning track. Gray is 8-1 this season when pitching after an A’s loss. The bullpen was pressed into heavy duty Saturday night when starter Jason Hammel lasted just two-plus innings. Gray (11-3) responded Sunday by holding the Orioles to two hits over 6 2/3 innings. He struck out eight and just one of his two runs was earned.
That meant manager Bob Melvin had to call on just two relievers to take it to the finish line. Making his first start since the All-Star break, Gray showed no ill effects from the seven-day layoff since his previous start.
“You’re a little worried anytime you get him some time off, but he was on it from the first inning on,” Melvin said. “Good curveball, fastball all over the place. And he got us deeper in the game. Certainly with the bullpen issues yesterday, it was well-needed to get us deep like that.”
Gray was well aware of the situation. With the Los Angeles Angels keeping the heat on Oakland in the standings, the A’s are looking to generate some momentum to start the second half. After an 8-4 defeat Saturday, they didn’t want to drop a home series coming out of the All-Star break.
“It’s a big game coming off a loss,” Gray said. “I know going in that it’s a game where I really want to put up a good performance and try to get the team back on track. I think everyone’s very conscious of it.”
It meant a lot to him to take care of business against Baltimore. The Orioles had beaten him in two previous starts in his career, both at Camden Yards, with Gray surrendering 11 earned runs in 8 2/3 innings. He got a rematch Sunday with another of the American League’s top young right-handers, Kevin Gausman, who held the A’s to one run over seven innings back on June 7.
The A’s tagged Gausman (4-3) for five runs and nine hits Sunday, chasing him by the fifth inning. Gray was handed a 2-0 first-inning lead, but he did his share by holding down one of the A.L.’s most imposing lineups and making sure the Orioles never climbed back in it.
“They got me twice (in Baltimore), so I really wanted to get them today,” Gray said. “It was awesome.”
Looking at the bigger picture, the 24-year-old Gray seems to be getting stronger as his first full big league season unfolds. He battled inconsistency in late May and into June, but his ERA in four July starts is a sterling 0.96.
Catcher John Jaso pointed to Gray’s ability to spot his fastball around the zone – throwing up and in to lefties and going down and away against righties. Then he mixes in his offspeed stuff, and the end result is a more efficient pitcher who can work deep into games.
“He's a guy that can end up throwing a lot of pitches,” Jaso said. “Getting that pitch count down, keeping it lower, getting strike one and continuing to throw strikes is really important for him so he can make it into the seventh and eighth innings.”