SEATTLE – Sonny Gray shined in the A’s 9-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, pitching in a mostly empty stadium against a 91-loss club.
[RECAP: A's cruise to 9-0 win in Seattle]
The stage will be bigger, the competition much tougher the next time the Oakland rookie takes the mound.
Gray fired five innings of three-hit ball in the A’s regular-season finale. He snapped off a wicked curve and struck out eight in a 79-pitch outing that was abbreviated by design.
Afterward, A’s manager Bob Melvin’s non-denial spoke volumes about whether the 23-year-old right-hander will be part of Oakland’s four-man postseason rotation.
“You could make your own assumptions,” Melvin suggested.
The assumption is that Gray will take the ball in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Oct. 7 against the Detroit Tigers. Bartolo Colon and Jarrod Parker are expected to start Games 1 and 2, respectively, at the Coliseum. That means Gray would make his first playoff start – and just his 11th overall in the major leagues – at Comerica Park against a lineup that led the majors in batting average and ranked second in runs.
Gray finished 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA since making his big league debut July 10. He became a fixture in Oakland’s rotation in early August after Tommy Milone was sent to the minors. He’s displayed a mid-90s fastball and a curve that drops like it fell off a table.
Just as importantly, Melvin is impressed by the mental makeup shown by the former University of Vanderbilt star.
“He’s got that kind of mindset where he kind of insulates within himself,” Melvin said of Gray. “He motivates himself, and I don’t think that would be any different at any level for him. Once he got here, it never really looked like it affected him much.”
A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson said Gray’s stuff reminds him of Tim Hudson, a pitcher to whom Gray has long been compared.
“I think Sonny has all the tools, the ability to be a big-time pitcher,” Donaldson said. “I think Sonny might have a better breaking ball than (Hudson). I don’t want to put too many high expectations on a guy, but he’s got what it takes to (remain) in the rotation.”
Gray’s curve had a little extra bite Sunday, according to catcher Derek Norris. He walked three, tying the most he’s allowed in the majors, but off-set that with his eight strikeouts. Five of them were called.
“He was phenomenal,” Norris said. “… He has that big curve ball. Nothing is straight, it either cuts or sinks. And he’s coming along with his change-up too.”
Gray’s next challenge is handling the bright lights of the postseason. The first-pitch temperature of 56 degrees on Sunday in Seattle gave him an idea of the chilly weather he’s sure to encounter in Detroit, though there’s a good chance it will be colder.
The atmosphere also will be exponentially wilder than what the crowd of 17,081 delivered Sunday at Safeco Field.
Gray said he’s excited for the challenge. Melvin is likely to announce his ALDS rotation during Tuesday’s workout.
“Hopefully I’m fortunate enough to be able to (start),” Gray said. “If my name gets called, I’ll definitely be ready.”