Sonny Gray shows Cy Young stuff in A’s win


The A’s had the better approach heading into possibly the best pitching duel the American League West can offer.

Oakland did their best to hit the ball away against Astros starter Dallas Keuchel (L, 13-6, 2.40 ERA), and it worked wonders in their 3-1 victory Friday evening.

Sonny Gray (W, 12-4, 2.06 ERA) pitched just a little better, allowing a solo home run to first baseman Luis Valbuena, but nothing else of consequence.

Gray threw a complete game, striking out five, walking one and allowing five hits. A’s manager Bob Melvin praised Gray:

“A pretty outstanding performance. Once swing of the bat by Valbuena or it’s a shutout. And we’ve seen him pitch that game recently a couple of times. Keep his pitch count under control, that’s what’s important, finishing those games.”

Outfielder Billy Burns added an RBI to his rookie total, now at 22, catcher Josh Phegley and third baseman Danny Valencia joined him.

Valencia hit a home run in the third for his RBI on a 2-2 count. He sent a 90 mph slider directed toward the lower inside corner a long way over the left field wall.

Valencia said:

“He’s very tough. The numbers argue, that’s luck sometimes. … Fortunate enough, I got some pitches out over the plate and I was able to hit them hard.”

Valencia now has eight hits in 12 at bats versus Keuchel, something few can claim.

Oakland’s defense was outstanding with Gray on the hill, and Houston couldn’t come back from the deficit. But the offense was a welcome part of the night versus a guy with the third-best ERA in the American League.

Said Melvin:

“This is the best we’ve swung the bat against him. And when you score three runs off him, you feel like you’ve scored a bunch. So it pretty much went as advertised as far as the pitching performances went but Sonny was just a little better tonight.”

He added:

“Our approach was better. You really have to stay away with him. With that sinker, if you try to pull him, you’re going to wear the shortstop and third baseman out all game long. And after a while, he started pitching in a little bit with his cutter and some of his off-speed stuff to get you to pull it. He makes great adjustments.”

Gray remains the American League ERA leader, with former A’s pitcher and current Astro Scott Kazmir second, Keuchel third.

The matchup led some members of the A’s to take gentleman’s wagers on the time of game, which was certain to be quick, though the two hours Phegley called was a little short (2:20).

With Stephen Vogt enjoying a rare night off, backup Phegley once again showed off his bat as well as his defensive prowess.

Houston leads the league in stolen bases with 83, and though only five men reached, none of them advanced on a steal.

Phegley, noting Gray’s consistency, thinks Gray could be favorite for Cy Young consideration:

“I haven’t seen anyone better. And the stuff that he’s been able to do, with our record and us losing a lot of games this year, he’s been tough. He goes out there and puts together a performance every time he’s out on the mound. So he’s right up there.”

Gray, though, doesn’t want to think about that. He’s focused only on the task ahead of him:

“There’s a lot of season left, man. I don’t think that really matters.”

Beyond his top ERA, Gray also leads the American League in WHIP, WAR, and is tied for second for quality start percentage, tied with Dallas Keuchel.

Gray also leads the American League in batting average for balls in play, opponents OPS, and opponents batting average.

He’s been absolutely unstoppable this season.

Phegley said:

“He uses his fastball. He challenges every hitter who gets in the box with his fastball. And he’s got the utmost confidence in that pitch. Keeps them off balance with his slider. … I don’t think it matters who he goes against, he’s just gonna prove he’s one of the best pitchers in the American League.”

Another fun pitching matchup will be available for the pleasure of all on Saturday: Jesse Chavez will duel Colin McHugh for an afternoon tilt.

Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Athletics.

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