Gray struggles again as Yankees clobber A’s

Oakland Athletics ace Sonny Gray continued the worst stretch of his major-league career Friday night with an 8-3 loss to the visiting New York Yankees.

The Yankees (19-22) applied pressure early and often. With two hits the visitors forced 19 pitches from the right arm of Gray in the very first inning, which proved to be the hurler’s best frame.

Over 3-1/3 innings, Gray served up six hits and walked four, allowing five runs in taking the fourth loss in his last five starts, being taxed for 98 throws — only 53 of which went for strikes. He added three wild pitches.

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

The onslaught was not entirely the fault of the starter, however, as Oakland’s defense bungled three errors. Center fielder Coco Crisp also misplayed a pair of fly balls leading to run-scoring extra-base hits.

Yankees starter CC Sabathia (W, 3-2, 3.41 ERA) responded with six innings of one-run work, to pick up win No. 10 against the A’s (19-24) in his career, and No. 100 in a Yankee uniform.

After the game, a visibly upset Gray was at a loss for answers:

“I was just missing a lot. Threw a lot of balls in the dirt. I got deep into a lot of counts, and didn’t put guys away.”

He added that he wasn’t sure there were any positives to be takes away from the outing.

Manager Bob Melvin disagreed, saying he looked to have his recent mechanical issues figured out before the fourth-inning bashing:

“(His) velocity was 95 at times — probably the best velocity we’ve seen out of him — and he threw some really sharp breaking balls. In the fourth it got a little out of and, they got some hits and he had trouble finding the strike zone.”

Though A’s hitters could muster only seven base runners, they combined for seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. After Matt McBride lined an RBI single into left field in the second such at-bat, the Oakland offense went quietly in run-scoring situations, finishing 1-for-7 but adding an RBI groundout from Jake Smolinski in the ninth.

The Yankees were not much better, finishing with four hits in 16 chances. Two of the hits, however, came on catchable fly balls to center — both of which sailed past Crisp, who has spent much of his time this season in left, after bad initial routes. What should have been the second and third outs in what ended up being a five-run fourth became a two-run triple by Ronald Torreyes and a two-run double by Carlos Beltran.

In defense of the normally strong defender, Melvin said:

“Sometimes, on a ball that’s hit right at you like that — on a line — especially when the wind is blowing like it is tonight, it’s kind of tough to judge. It just got over his head.”

The skipper added that defensive miscues like Crisp’s bad first steps and the three errors should not affect the pitcher. The lead-off hitter did his best to make up for the outfield gaffes though, hammering an RBI double in the seventh.

Gray (L, 3-5, 6.19 ERA) entered the 2016 season with sub-3.00 career ERA. In his last six starts the 26 year-old has seen his season ERA climb from 2.33 to 6.19, and has posted his shortest career outing (2 innings) on April 27.

Not only has the ace been hit harder than usual during this tough stretch, he has seen his strikeout-to-walk ratio tumble to 1.5-to-1, taking his season ratio to 1.7-to-1. Through the first three years of his career, the Tennessee native had boasted a respectable 2.7-to-1 figure.

The inability to miss bats, coupled with his struggles to stay in the strike zone, has been a key contributor to his extended scuffle.

Melvin’s squad will get right back to work for a Saturday afternoon tilt. They will likely have to do so without All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt, however, as he is a probable scratch after being hit by a pitch in the second.

Coming off his best startand first big-league win, rookie Sean Manaea (1-1, 7.91 ERA) squares off against Yankee ace Masahiro Tanaka (1-0, 3.51 ERA).


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.