OAKLAND — For the majority of his night Wednesday, Sonny Gray was in total command and had Texas Rangers hitters guessing.
That wasn’t what dominated his thoughts afterward though. The A’s ace was searching for answers after he gave up five runs in the top of the sixth of what turned into a deflating 7-5 loss for his team.
“It’s really unfortunate on a night like this, just one inning,” a dejected Gray said afterward. “Literally, one inning … five runs later and the game’s tied. I don’t think anyone really saw that coming.”
It was a shocking reversal of fortune for a pitcher who had shown signs of turning the corner in three starts since coming off the disabled list. The A’s handed Gray a 5-0 lead by the fourth, and it was his win to stash away, against a team he’s thrown two shutouts against and had fashioned a 1.92 ERA against in 10 career starts.
He was jamming lefties inside with his fastball, which nicely set up his backdoor curve.
“I’ve seen him take the stuff tonight and throw shutouts with it,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Rangers crush four home runs, storm past A's]
But adversity hit in the sixth, and as has happened often in 2016 with Gray, he couldn’t find a way to steer things back on course. He allowed five hits in the sixth — four extra-base hits, including home runs from Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor.
Presto … a 5-0 lead became a 5-5 tie. Odor and Chirinos, the Rangers’ No. 9 hitter, didn’t let up against Oakland’s bullpen. Chirinos went deep off John Axford in the seventh and Odor connected off Sean Doolittle in the eighth to put Texas up.
Afterward, everyone seemed to be searching for answers to what happened in the sixth. Melvin went and watched a quick bit of video before addressing reporters. Catcher Josh Phegley said members of the coaching staff were quizzing him on any difference he saw in Gray’s stuff early in the game as opposed to later.
“His stuff was still the same,” Phegley said.
So what happened?
Gray is convinced he needs to start mixing his pitchers better the second and third times through the order.
“My fastball has been so good the last three starts,” he said. “I’m throwing it a lot, getting a lot of weak contact on it. But later in the game I start to lose it just a little bit. it’s an adjustment I’m gonna have to make.”
There was no mystery involving Gray’s location in the sixth. After keeping the ball down in the zone through five innings, and generating lots of ground balls, he started elevating pitches in the sixth. Clearly, the 2015 Cy Young finalist isn’t out of the woods when it comes to solving his season-long struggles.
“I looked at every single pitch and every single one was at the top of the strike zone,” Gray said. “In the sixth inning, all of a sudden I stopped driving the ball down in the bottom of the strike zone. I started leaving it up and they took advantage of it.”
Gray’s entire body of work since coming off the DL has looked better than before he was sidelined by a strained trapezius muscle. But there’s a common element in his past two starts — a late-inning lapse that ultimately has contributed to A’s losses. Against Cincinnati on Friday, he threw two wild pitches in the seventh that contributed to the Reds’ winning rally in the seventh.
On Wednesday, things spun out of control more severely.
“It was a little bit startling,” Melvin admitted.
But somehow it wasn’t out of place in an A’s season where things have come undone in a wide variety of ways.