Solid Sonny Gray seals A’s first 2016 win

Two days removed from food poisoning, Oakland Athletics ace Sonny Gray made his 2016 debut Wednesday night in a winning effort.

On the strength of seven strong innings from the righty — and the team’s first homer from Mark Canha — the A’s (1-2) collected their first victory of the season, 2-1, in the third of four against Chicago (2-1). White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon had a stellar start in a loss, allowing both runs while going seven innings as well.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

Gray, who finished third in the 2015 AL CY Young race, went six or more innings allowing one earned run or fewer 13 times last season, including his first two starts of the campaign. He added one early this season with a one-run, three-hit, five-strikeout effort.

Oakland Manager Bob Melvin was not exactly surprised by the outing:

“Sonny was Sonny. We’ve seen him pitch that type of game often, especially when we’ve lost a couple of tough ones. He even gets more inspired being the guy to go out there get deep into the game, give us a chance to win.”

Supplying the punch was Canha (1-for-4), whose first-pitch solo bomb in the second proved to be the winning hit.

Attacking the first pitch is something Canha believes is part of his game:

“In my first start, it was one of the things I could have done a better job with was being ready for that first pitch. I told myself to be aggressive, which is my game normally … I’m just trying to get back to what I do best.”

Canha provided the game-winner, but it was Jed Lowrie (0-for-3) who got things started once again with runners in scoring position — he is 3-for-4 this season with four RBIs in such situations — with a sacrifice fly to get the scoring started in the first in the first inning.

WIth his flyball to right fielder Avisail Garcia, Lowrie provided credence to Melvin’s decision to move the second baseman to the three-spot in the order. Lowrie now finds himself with five RBIs on the season (T-3 in the AL).

His double-play partner Marcus Semien added one hit in three at-bats, along with active defense. 

While the defense was flawless, Gray found himself facing man-on situations in all but one inning due to an abnormally high walk total. Averaging about two walks per outing in his career, the starter walked four.

He would not outwardly admit that his health had anything to do with his control issues, though Gray did acknowledge that his recent illness did have an effect:

“I felt OK. I definitely didn’t have my best stuff tonight, but it was one of those games when you’ve got to go with what is working early.”

The White Sox offense was led by center fielder Austin Jackson (1-for-3), whose double in the third led Chicago’s only run, knocked in on a sacrifice fly by Tuesday night’s Sox hero, Jimmy Rollins (0-for-3).  

After pitching in each of the season’s first two contests, including taking the loss on Tuesday, closer Sean Doolittle sat by idly as offseason addition Ryan Madson got the A’s first save opportunity of the season. Allowing a hit on 25 pitches, Madson struck out Alex Avila to slam the door.

After converting his new team’s first save of the year, Madson was quick to pass off credit for the win:

“You’ve got to get the first one out of the way, and the guys played good. It was a good, tight baseball game and it was good to finish it off.”

Madson entered the ninth in relief of John Axford who threw a scoreless eighth. The two zeroes thrown give the bullpen 10 innings with only one run allowed — a solo home run against Doolittle — through the first three games. After posting the American League’s worst ERA (4.63) in 2015, this season’s group currently hold an impressive 0.90 runs per nine innings.

The A’s will look for a series split against the White Sox when the two teams meet for a Thursday matinée pitting Chicago’s Mat Latos and Oakland’s Kendall Graveman.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.