Gray leads A’s to victory over Astros


It’s a game where bragging rights could be assigned between friends, but that won’t happen yet.

Sonny Gray (W, 13-7, 2.28 ERA) didn’t allow a run against the Astros over seven innings, and while dueling former teammate and close friend Scott Kazmir (L, 7-10, 2.63 ERA) in a 4-0 A’s victory Tuesday night.

Gray snapped a personal three game losing streak, leading A’s manager Bob Melvin to say:

“You expect him to be great every time, and that’s not going to be the case over the course of a season. It’s probably the first time we’ve seen him really get hit a little bit like that.”

Gray’s trademark over his young career has been a rocky inning or two early on, and then sheer dominance. Tuesday night was no different.

He loaded the bases in the second inning, a double to outfielder Carlos Gomez, a line out on the next at bat, then a walk drawn by Houston designated hitter Evan Gattis.

With a 3-1 count, Gray then walked first baseman Luis Valbuena, who entered Tuesday night with a .209 batting average. It looked like a storm was going to open up during a Kansas fall.

But Gray struck out catcher Hank Conger on three pitches, and induced a fly ball from outfielder Jake Marisnick to end the inning. Like a magician, Gray made sure the A’s had some sunny weather ahead.

Melvin said:

“That was probably the key to the game, that inning. He had a couple walks, looked like his command was a little off, which happens to him every now and then in the middle innings. That’s probably the time where they had the best chance to get to him.”

And the Astros sure didn’t get much after that. Gray allowed only four hits in the five innings that followed, and no walks. Gray reclaimed his throne as king of ERA in the American League. He said:

“I had a rough outing my last time out, so it was important to get back out on the mound and put some zeros up.”

Gray said he didn’t change anything, but made sure to slow himself down. He also said there will be no bragging rights handed out since he and Kazmir are set to face each other again in about 10 days.

The youth movement in Oakland is still churning out serious production, and while it starts with Gray, it finishes with rule-5 rookie first baseman Mark Canha.

Canha hit a three run shot in the fifth inning that gave Gray a cushion to get more comfortable on, which was especially relaxing since the A’s lone run came from rookie outfielder Billy Burns on a solo shot to center.

Burns hit three prior home runs this season, all on the first pitch. His fourth came on an 0-2 count, four straight foul balls. The fifth try was a duesy.

His towering shot still surprises, even Melvin:

“You don’t expect Billy to hit a ball that far, especially when he’s into the count a little bit. But it’s flying a little bit tonight, obviously with it being a little bit warm out there. But still, he squared it up. He’s surprised us a few times this year, and again that time.”

Oakland temperature at first pitch was 87 degrees, possibly the hottest temperature of any first pitch this season. The heat might have helped, but Burns put bat to ball with serious conviction, and watched it fly.

A’s designated hitter Billy Butler put bat to ball for three singles, too, but didn’t cross home plate against the tough southpaw and former teammate Kazmir.

When Gray departed after the seventh, rookie reliever Ryan Dull came in and did what he’s done this September: pitch scoreless innings.

Emphasis on the plurality, Dull pitched the eighth and ninth innings, the first time he’s pitched multiple innings in the big leagues.

The 25-year-old continues to impress in Oakland, and it’s a story difficult to believe since he was in Double-A to begin the year. The results are in, and Dull has been extraordinary in his few starts with the big club since being called up a little over a week ago.

Melvin opined on what impresses most about the teenage-looking pitcher:

“His mound presence. I’ve said before, he looks like a teenager out there. And he’s not overly big and intimidating on the mound, but all he does is locate. He’s got three pitches he throws for strikes. He mixes them up, there’s a gap between his pitches, and it looks like he has a lot of confidence.”

Dull was drafted in the 32nd round of the 2012 first year player draft. Later than late, by most accounts, and right around the area where teams start selecting celebrities and other guys they truly don’t expect to make the big roster.

Every once in a while, a team will strike gold late in the draft. Players like Mike Piazza, who was drafted by the Dodgers in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft and ride the opportunity into the hall of fame.

It’s a rare thing, and once teams get enough data on Dull, a dropoff is nearly certain. But the rookie and his ballclub will ride it until the wheels fall off. Dull has allowed one hit since his debut in Oakland, and the 5-foot-10 youngster keeps on smiling.

Another youngster, rookie Aaron Brooks will get the nod Wednesday evening for the home stand finale against right-hander Colin McHugh, who is third in wins for the American League.

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

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