Sonny Gray continued his 2017 search for his 2015 self Wednesday. And, in what was his most dominant start in nearly two full years, he gave the Oakland crowd more than a mere glimpse of his Cy Young-type form.
Gray (W, 2-1, 3.34 ERA) worked 7 overpowering innings, holding the Miami Marlins to three hits and one run before departing having thrown just 88 pitches. He struck out a season-high 11.
The starter got all the offense he would end up needing on a first-inning opposite-field home run (14) from Khris Davis, but a career day from Jed Lowrie would serve some insurance en route to a 4-1 win for the Athletics (21-25).
Manager Bob Melvin said that Gray looked the best he has since 2015, when he finished third in the AL Cy Young race, and he’s only improving:
“When he’s at his best, he’s getting strikeouts, he’s getting bad swings on his breaking balls. .. (He was) really good, and each time out he gets better.”
Gray started his day the way much of it would go, striking out Miami lead-off man Dee Gordon on four pitches.
Perhaps more impressive than his 11 strikeouts, one short of his career-high, was the fact that the little right-hander stacked them so efficiently. Averaging fewer than 13 throws per innings, Gray cruised the duration of is afternoon.
It was so efficient, in fact, that the manager had a hard time adding it up:
“I’m looking at my card, looking at pitch count, and I’m trying to do the match … at one point, it was 66 (pitches) with 10 (strikeouts). It means he’s throwing strikes, and it means he’s not throwing too many balls when he striking guys out.”
For Gray, though, the greatest takeaway had more to do with his last two starts. He has felt better both mentally and physically than he has in nearly two years, he said:
“The main thing that you can take away is, I feel healthy. I’m not doing anything different; there’s nothing that clicked; there’s nothing that mechanically I changed; there’s nothing that I’m trying to different — I feel healthy, I feel like I can do what I want to with the ball again.”
And he did exactly what he wanted. In none of his 7 innings did Gray reach the 20-pitch mark, topping out at 18 in the fourth, an inning in which he suffered his only hiccup.
It was no fit, however, as a single up the middle by Giancarlo Stanton seemed to be enough to scare the hiccups away. With Stanton at first and Gordon at third, Gray struck the next three batters out, though a swinging whiff of three-hole hitter Marcel Ozuna came on a wild pitch scoring the speedy second baseman.
Even in what would end up being his worst inning, allowing the full allotment of offense he would grant the visitors, Gray thought it ended up worse than it could have, saying he was “frustrated” by the frame:
“I thought I made two pretty good pitches to Dee and Stanton, and three pitches into the inning it’s first and third. … I still didn’t change my game plan, I still tried to attack the guys and put the pressure on them.”
That was it. Gray gave the Marlins (16-29) just one more hit, a seventh-inning, lead-ff double by Ozuna, and a single walk, coming to J.T. Realmuto with one down in that same seventh. With a couple of ground balls, though, he once again snuffed it out.
“When he’s on, it’s almost like a game for him. He gets man on second, nobody out, and wiggles out of it. That’s what he does — that’s what the really good ones do. … We saw everything that makes him who he is, today.”
In his support, Lowrie, who entered the contest tied for the second-most doubles (14) in the American League, doubled with two outs in the first. Khris gave him a free pass to the dugout on a homer into the seats beyond the National League out-of-town scoreboard. Lowrie added a single in the third, an RBI double in the fifth and an RBI single in the seventh. Now, he is not only tied for the AL lead in doubles, he is tied at the top of the Major League chart.
Of his teammate, and the man who has spent much of the season in front of him in the lineup, Khris said Lowrie has been a model of consistency:
“That was amazing. He’s a grinder, as a hitter he just grinds pitchers down. He’s our most consistent, professional hitter. He’s always going to be a high on-base guy and shoot line-drives.”
It was the seventh four-hit game in his 10-year career, the last coming in April last season.
The A’s get their second day off the week, this one a travel day as they pick thing up with a three-game series against the New York Yankees (26-17). It will be the first series this season between the two foes.
Prior to the game, the A’s placed relief pitcher Bobby Wahl on the 10-day disabled list with a strained right shoulder. Zach Neal, who had been 1-2 with a 3.89 ERA in eight appearances with Triple-A Nashville this season, replaced him on the roster. … Reliever Sean Doolittle threw a bullpen session before the game. He said he was throwing all his pitches with 100-percent effort and came away feeling healthy. Next step in his return is facing live hitters, which he will do Saturday in extended spring training. … Khris Davis’ first-inning home run gave the A’s a homer in 16 of the past 17 games, and 37 of the 46 total played this season. They are 20-17 in games in which they homer (1-8 when they don’t).