After taking, what he called, a “step-ish in the right direction” in his last start, Sonny Gray was hit hard early before being dealt the finishing blows in the fifth. Lest a three-run homer, the A’s (42-53) were held in check by the Rays (38-57) and starter Matt Moore, who lasted seven strong while allowing three runs and four hits.
The loss marks the first for Oakland to open a series in the last five series’.
Manager Bob Melvin spoke about his starter, whose velocity stayed around 90 rather than its normal 94-95:
“From the start, he was going to back off the heater a little bit, velocity-wise, to try to get some command. … They just got on him in the fifth.”
Gray (L, 4-9, 5.49 ERA) offered a glimpse of what once was, but has been able to elude him since late-April, when he used his assortment of breaking stuff to strike out four consecutive Rays hitters.[envira-gallery id=”194131″]
Using a slider to put finishing touches on his second strikeout of the game, getting Luke Maile swinging, Gray brought an end to the second. Working with a new lead in the third, the beleaguered ace blew right through the top of the Tampa batting order, finishing with a similar swing-and-miss slider to the three-time All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria.
“I felt good again, coming into the game felt like I had a good approach — the ball wasn’t coming out like it has been. My breaking stuff was good, but my fastball just really wasn’t there tonight.”
All-Star catcher Stephen Vogt agreed with his pitcher’s assessment of his breaking ball:
“Today, I thought, was one of the best breaking balls he’s had all year. A little bit a fastball command issues at times, and his velocity kind of dipped and was a little sporadic.”
While the impressive frame was no doubt enlightening for Gray, and the entire home dugout, it did offer signs of what was to come.
Each of the third-inning strikeout victims were able to work the count, coaxing 17 pitches from the right arm of Gray. And it wasn’t because they were battling, rather it was the hurler’s command — falling behind 2-0 to Logan Forsythe, then Brad Miller 3-1.
He fell into a 2-0 hole Corey Dickerson leading off the fourth as well but when he was forced to come back in, the Rays’ designated hitter was prepared and launched a solo home run (14) to left.
Vogt put it simply:
“When you get behind major league hitters, it’s not good.”
The once 3-1 lead Gray had relinquished came on a thunderous bash from Jake Smolinski, who the authored latest contribution of two-out second-half runs — now 21 of 30 coming with two down — with a three-run dinger (5).
Lifting a first-pitch offering from Moore (W, 6-7, 4.31 ERA), the center fielder was rounding first base as the towering fly ball landed on the top of the 15-foot wall in left-center, mid-way between the 362- and 388-foot markers.
The Oakland starter worked his way out of the fourth after the Dickerson jack. In the fifth, though, he was greeted by Tim Beckham, who had homered (4) in the second giving him seven hits and a walk in his previous eight trips to the plate. A single up the middle — giving the first baseman an 8-for-8 run — triggered a seemingly never-ending onslaught.
Gray was tagged for hits by the next five batters he faced, though a heady relay from Khris Davis, in left field, through shortstop Marcus Semien gave the starter his first out — getting Longoria at second.
A sacrifice fly from Dickerson two pitches later finished the scoring, while Gray ended his night striking out Steven Souza Jr.
The seven was more than enough for the Rays starting pitcher, who struck out six and never faced a threat after the Smolinski homer.
“Matt Moore did a great job. His velocity was up around 95. Good curveball, good changeup. … He pitched us tough — we weren’t able really string anything together other than the one inning.”