Sonny Gray generally is so good that he’s able to mask any deficiencies when he’s on the mound.
On Wednesday night, the A’s ace couldn’t find the answers during a 9-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. His two-inning outing was his shortest as a major leaguer, as Gray’s spotty command led to four walks and a hit batsmen to go with the four runs Detroit scored off him in a 40-pitch second inning.
Afterward, he couldn’t recall the last time he struggled through such an outing.
“It’s no secret I‘ve been a little more out of the zone than I’d like to be early in the year,” Gray told reporters. “This is really the first time it’s hurt me. But if you look at all my starts leading into this one, I’ve had some close calls.”
He was likely referring to the 15 walks he’s issued in 28 1/3 innings over the course of the young season. No doubt he also was thinking of the trouble he pitched out of against Toronto earlier in this road trip, when he managed to go seven innings and ring up his third victory of the season at the Rogers Center.
Gray said he felt fine physically Wednesday but that “I just didn’t have anything today.”
With his ace having already logged 65 pitches through two innings, including 40 in the second, A’s manager Bob Melvin said he had no intent to let Gray pitch any longer.
“I just didn’t want to risk sending him out there again,” Melvin said. “I know we had to cover a lot of game with our bullpen, but that’s our guy, and you want to make sure that he’s healthy for the next time around.”
Gray’s ERA rose from 2.73 to 3.81 Wednesday, and the A’s can only hope he’s back showing his usual form in his next start Monday against Seattle.
In the short term, the A’s road-trip finale Thursday morning against the Tigers sets up as an important game. With a win, they finish 6-4 on this challenging three-city trip in which they’ve faced the Yankees, Blue Jays and Tigers. A loss leaves them at 5-5. And though finishing .500 on a tough 10-game trip generally goes down as a moral victory, remember that the A’s won the first four on their trip. So a 1-5 finish would take some of the shine off that accomplishment.
They’ll send Chris Bassitt to the hill Thursday. Usually, it’s Gray who rides to the rescue to pick up his rotation mates if they struggle through a poor outing. This time it’s the A’s ace who’s in need of a pick-me-up himself.
Wednesday began with the big news that the A’s will call up left-hander Sean Manaea, their top pitching prospect, to make his major league debut Friday against the Astros. Before Wednesday’s game, Melvin’s comments to reporters suggested that Manaea will be up for the long term, and not just as a temporary fill-in.
In the Astros, he’ll draw an opponent that has underachieved so far. Houston was considered the preseason favorite by most to win the AL West, but the Astros began Wednesday’s play with the AL’s worst record at 6-15.