When Sonny Gray and David Price work out together during the winter, they swap stories about how the previous season went for each of them.
They’ll have some good material this year, as Gray joined his fellow Vanderbilt alum as a finalist for the American League Cy Young award, along with Houston’s Dallas Keuchel. The news was announced nationwide Tuesday, but Gray and Price had both gotten word Monday, when Gray played in Price’s charity golf tournament in Nashville.
“Everybody knew he was gonna be a finalist and have a strong chance to win,” Gray said on the phone Tuesday. “We didn’t really know if I was gonna be or not. It was cool. I think he was even more excited than I was. It just shows how good of a guy he is.”
Price already has one Cy Young award on his shelf, and he’s got a strong case this season after going 18-5 and leading the AL with a 2.45 ERA. Keuchel, who attended Arkansas, is the other strong co-favorite along with Price. Gray, who went 14-7 and posted the league’s third-best ERA at 2.73, is pumped to be in their company.
“It’s neat to be in that category with two other SEC guys who were at the top of their game the whole year,” he said.
Gray also was a finalist for the AL Gold Glove for pitchers, which went to Keuchel on Tuesday. But his nomination for the Cy Young is validation of his rising status as one of the majors’ top starters. The winner will be announced Nov. 18.
[RELATED: Gray a finalist for 2015 AL Cy Young]
A’s pitching coach Curt Young said Gray’s overall repertoire took a step forward in 2015.
“He went through a period where he used his changeup quite a bit, he used his slider quite a bit. And then his fastball command improved,” Young said. “When you have those working, you’re unpredictable with what you’re gonna throw. But he’s just such a great competitor. That’s what it really comes down to.”
Gray set the tone early for his season, when he took the ball on Opening Night and threw eight scoreless innings against the Texas Rangers in an 8-0 victory.
“He believed from day one that he’s an ace,” A’s catcher Stephen Vogt said. “He believed it, we believed it. He’s always (taken to) that role, but I think he really embraced that this year.”
Gray said he built on the confidence acquired during his 14-win season of 2014, his first full year in the majors. Looking ahead to next season, he’d like to be able to apply the breaks more effectively when he hits a slump. In September, he posted a 6.84 ERA and eventually was shut down late in the month with a hip injury. He’s feeling much better physically, but he hopes to take something away from that turbulent stretch.
“Hopefully next year when I get into a rough patch, I come out of it a game or two sooner,” he said.
On Wednesday morning, Gray and Price are set to work out together on the Vanderbilt campus, in what’s become an offseason tradition. Price, 30, is four years older than Gray, and the two always talk pitching.
“We pretty much had a very similar upbringing through college and into pro ball,” Gray said. “To share this with him is just a little bit special for both of us.”