Gray lifted early in another A’s loss

On a day when the Oakland Athletics paid tribute to the 1981 “Billy Ball” team the 2016 squad played more like it was 1979, falling 4-0 to the Chicago Cubs Saturday afternoon.

Starter Sonny Gray refrained from issuing a walk for just the second time this season, and showed signs of the dominating force he had been in the past, but was removed early due what the team reported as right extensor — forearm — muscle soreness. His A’s (48-62) were shutdown by the Cubs (68-41) and ace Jake Arrieta who twirled eight scoreless.

Now 14 games below the .500 mark, Oakland has reached is worst record of the season, and were punished heavily by former farmhand Addison Russell and 2015 Athletic Ben Zobrist.

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

Manager Bob Melvin said that the signs of the righty’s dominance were evident early:

“He was pretty good, and we could see it right away. … When he’s on his game, the numbers have shown over the last couple years how good he is.”

Despite recent struggles, Arrieta (W, 13-5, 2.59 ERA) displayed all the tools that won him the 2015 National League CY Young Award in holding the Oakland offense to three hits. The A’s got a runner as far as second base just twice.

With the help of a pair of defensive gems, Gray (L, 5-11, 5.74 ERA) wiggled his way out of a two-on, no-out jam in the second.

After singles by Zobrist and Russell to lead off the frame, what looked to be an RBI knock by Jason Heyward was cut off by a diving second baseman Max Muncy, normally a right fielder, who flipped to first to get Heyward while keeping Zobrist from heading home. The former Athletic was then cut down at home, following a clean snag and throw to the plate by third baseman Ryon Healy.

Coming one strike short, the Oakland hurler was unable to pull the same disappearing act in the third. Striking out Kris Bryant before coaxing an innocent ground-out from Anthony Rizzo, Gray got ahead 1-2 on Zobrist before catching far too much zone with a fastball and giving up a two-run, two-out single.

Gray said he was happy with his performance in the inning, despite allowing the runs which were scored on the power of three bloop hits:

“There’s not one thing that I would have done differently. … The most frustrating thing is feeling good out there, and having some stuff — being able to make some pitches. My stuff was very sharp. To have (the start) cut short was very unfortunate.”

He was removed after throwing just 72 pitches in five frames despite retiring his last seven batters faced. The diagnosis of forearm muscle soreness, which Gray said he has never experienced in the past, is not viewed as serious for the time being. Both Gray and Melvin did add that how the hurler’s arm feels on Sunday will tell them a lot more.

Catcher Stephen Vogt said that his starter’s stuff was among the best he’s had all season, allowing the runs on a trio of bloops:

“It’s unfortunate to hear that he’s hurting, because hat’s as good as he’s look in a long time.”

Gray’s replacement, Liam Hendriks (0-2, 4.69 ERA), was tagged with two more in the sixth. One knocked in by Russell, the other scored by him.

The All-Star Shortstop added a stolen base (4) and several stellar defensive gems of his own, making his first trip to the Oakland Coliseum after being drafted by the A’s in the first round (No. 11 overall) of the 2012 draft.

The series concludes with a Sunday afternoon matchup of young guns, when Oakland rookie Sean Manaea (3-6, 4.68 ERA) puts his previous month’s 2.51 ERA on the line against Kyle Hendricks (10-7, 2.22 ERA), who has allowed just three earned runs in 34-1/3 innings over his past six starts.


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.