ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As the A’s rejoiced in Sunday’s come-from-behind win, the dominant feeling seemed to be one of relief in Sonny Gray’s corner of the clubhouse.
It was another rough day numbers-wise for the A’s No. 1 starter, as Gray gave up a career-high tying three home runs in 5 2/3 innings against Tampa Bay. The A’s rallied for a 7-6 victory, and Gray felt like he and pitching coach Curt Young hit on something mechanically late in his outing that might be a springboard to better things.
“It’s a small thing we notice I do sometimes, something to do with my mechanics,” Gray said after the game. “I don’t really want to get into that, but a small thing we do to help me get the ball back down. We’ve noticed it in the past, noticed it a couple years ago and something we’ll work on and commit to going forward.”
Gray, who gave up six runs (three earned) and six hits Sunday, has allowed 21 earned runs over his past 18 1/3 innings spanning four starts. His ERA is 10.31 over that span and 5.84 overall through eight starts. Gray’s mechanical discovery Sunday seems like an important one for him. But the key will be whether he can transfer it to his next start, and most importantly, find his rhythm earlier in the game.
He found trouble from the get-go Sunday, giving up the first of Brandon Guyer’s two homers to lead off the bottom of the first, on a 1-2 slider. After Tyler Ladendorf’s two-out error in the second extended that inning, Guyer hit a fastball for a three-run homer that gave the Rays a 4-1 lead. Gray missed location on another fastball in the fifth that Evan Longoria belted for another homer. His eight homers allowed through eight starts this season match his total through his first 20 starts in 2015.
But those costly mistakes aside, A’s manager Bob Melvin came away feeling better about Gray after Sunday’s effort.
“I think Sonny pitched way better, especially later in the game,” Melvin said. “His issues have been getting the ball up, and that’s when his ball flattens out a bit. When he gets the ball down, then he’s got a lot of good movement, and you don’t see those type of swings. You don’t see the hard contact. I think he found something.”
As the A’s return home to begin a seven-game homestand, they do so still needing for their starters to pitch deeper into games. Oakland’s starters are carrying a 7.86 ERA over the last 21 games, and they’ve failed to complete six innings in nine of their last 10 games.
Figure any significant improvement in this area has to begin with Gray, whose past excellence has set the standard for the rotation.
“I’ve constantly been leaving the ball up,” Gray said. “You give up hard-hit balls and homers in this league if you’re getting the ball up. … When I get the ball down, it’s got great life on it. That’s when you start seeing swings and misses.”
Catcher Stephen Vogt took a pitch off his left thumb in the fourth as he tried to block a wild-pitch third strike. Vogt was examined by the training staff on the field but stayed in, and he said X-rays of his thumb after the game showed no fracture. The A’s were without their backup catcher, Josh Phegley, for the Rays series due to a sore knee, which necessitated Matt McBride being called up from Triple-A Nashville.
Right-hander Henderson Alvarez gave up two runs, struck out eight and walked one over five innings for Nashville on Sunday. If his surgically repaired shoulder comes out of that outing well, Alvarez is likely to make his A’s debut sometime during a series against the Yankees next weekend.
Ryan Dull faced four hitters and struck out all four Sunday. According to baseball-reference.com, he’s the fourth player in franchise history (since 1913) to pitch at least 1 1/3 innings and strike out every batter he faced.