OAKLAND – Certainly there isn’t much the A’s can take for granted in this wayward season, and Friday night brought another example of that.
Send Sonny Gray out to the mound in front of the home fans, when he’s coming off a shutout, and you like your chances, right? It turns out even the most bullet-proof game plans don’t always work out as expected.
Gray just wasn’t his typical self in a 5-0 loss to the Twins, as the A’s opened up their second half with a thud at the Coliseum. There’s a convenient theory available as to what went wrong for Oakland’s ace, and it carries some validity.
The previous five days were a whirlwind for Gray. Coming off a masterful shutout at Cleveland on Sunday, he left straight from Progressive Field that day and bussed with teammate and fellow All-Star Stephen Vogt to Cincinnati to take part in his first All-Star Game.
Gray soaked in the pageantry, even if he wasn’t on the active roster for Tuesday’s showcase. He threw his normal bullpen session that day and was starting Friday on his usual four days’ rest. Still, it was a crazy way to prepare for his outing given his itinerary leading up to it.
Gray, not surprisingly, wasn’t using the All-Star Game experience as an excuse.
[Instant Replay: Twins hit grand slam off Gray, shut out A's]
“Obviously it was a different type of week,” he said. “But I think once I took the mound, everything goes back to normal. I felt fine, I just wasn’t very sharp. Even during the middle innings, I knew I was going to have to locate a little better because I just felt my stuff wasn’t that good. And the mistakes just caught up with me.”
He elevated a 2-2 fastball to Brian Dozier, his first hitter of the game. Dozier banged it for a homer to left. He found a groove from the second through the fifth. But then he issued two walks in the sixth sandwiched around Torii Hunter’s single. He jumped ahead of Trevor Plouffe 0-2 but left a slider about chest-high and Plouffe lofted it to left for a grand slam, the first Gray has allowed since breaking into the majors in 2013.
“I don’t think Sonny’s hung a slider like that in a couple years,” said Vogt, who was catching Friday.
Gray clearly had an off-night, and that will happen occasionally, even for Cy Young contenders. Trouble is, the A’s (41-51) have used up all their mulligans. Friday marked the first of 12 games before the July 31 trade deadline, which gives this team precious little time to get on a roll before the front office possibly decides to pull the trigger and deal away a veteran or two with an eye toward the future.
One loss doesn’t destroy the A’s effort, but Friday’s game was one you had circled as a potential ‘W’ simply because Gray was taking the ball.
So the takeaway from Friday night? The A’s need to get a well-rounded, balanced effort every single game. It’s not enough that they can send out a potential shutdown starter. The offense mustered just five hits Friday and went down with a whimper, and that doesn’t cut it.
Scott Kazmir takes the mound Saturday night. If he’s fully recovered from the triceps tightness that knocked him from his last start, you like the A’s chances again going into the game. But as was shown Friday, rosy projections don’t always translate to the scoreboard.