Sonny Gray made a key step toward an Oakland return Saturday, and he did so emphatically.
Gray, who has yet to pitch with the Athletics (10-8) this season after suffering a lat strain during Spring Training, is coming off the worst season of his young career. The 27-year-old made just 22 starts in 2016, facing a litany of upper-body injuries.
The former ace is now on the verge of returning to a starting staff that already boasts the American League’s seventh-lowest starter ERA (3.83). In his first rehab assignment, with the Class-A Stockton Ports, Gray fired 5 scoreless frames, allowing just one hit while striking out six. He said:
“I felt great, and I feel good again today. It was a good step in the right direction, for sure.”
The original plan was to have Gray throw 4 innings and 65 pitches. He was so efficient, though, that he needed a fifth inning to even approach the target pitch total. Even in getting the extra three outs, he didn’t reach the 65-mark — he finished his afternoon tossing the final 18 in the bullpen under the watchful eye of big league pitching coach Curt Young.
Manager Bob Melvin said:
“We didn’t want him getting up more than five times, he had only been up three times before that, so he did it economically — he was throwing a lot of strikes.”
Efficiency and command were both good signs for the right-hander and his club. Issuing 42 free passes over 117 innings a season ago, Gray finished 2016 with a career-worst 2.24 strikeouts per walk. Efficiency also played into his ability to remain in games. Gray averaged just 5-1/3 innings per start in last year, after lasting 6-2/3 per start in each of his previous two seasons.
“It was great. I felt like I was controlling the strike zone. I was throwing four pitches for strikes — the days that you’re doing that, more times than not, it’s going to come out in your favor.”
Up next for Gray is a second rehab start, this one with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, in which he will toss 75 pitches. From there, Melvin said, a decision will be made regarding the next step — the two options being a third rehab assignment, or a return to the A’s.
Also on the mend, center fielder Rajai Davis was left out of the starting lineup for the third straight day since tweaking his left hamstring Thursday night.
The decision to give Davis one more day, the skipper said, has much to do with his style of play and the travel day coming Monday:
“We need Raj back, but we also need him healthy. With the off-day tomorrow, it makes sense to give him one more day. I think he probably could play today, but his legs are the most important thing in his game so we want to make sure we’re past this, and with a day off tomorrow it gives us a little better chance for him to go out there closer to 100 percent.”
Davis, who has slashed .214/.262/.375 with one stolen base through his first 15 games this season, is expected to return to the starting lineup Tuesday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (8-11).
Kendall Graveman (2-0, 2.00 ERA), who was placed on the 10-day DL Monday (retroactive to Saturday, April 15) with a strained shoulder, is also expected to return from the ranks of the walking wounded in Anaheim. He will throw a bullpen session Monday, Melvin said if all goes well he will slide right back into the rotation.