By: Eric He
OAKLAND – The slumping A’s could definitely use some sunshine these days, and they may have their sun back in Sonny Gray.
The 27-year-old righty recorded his first win of the 2017 season on Thursday night in the A’s 8-3 win over the Red Sox at the Coliseum, and he showed flashes of his former self, striking out eight batters in six innings. He threw 103 pitches, allowing four hits and three runs, two of which came in the first inning.
Gray retired 16 of his last 18 batters, and gave up just one hit after the first inning — a fourth inning home run by Mitch Moreland. But it was one of just a few blemishes in a much-needed resurgent start.
“Sonny was absolutely outstanding,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “He looked as good as I’ve seen him in a very, very long time. Had all four pitches working. Really put the ball where he wanted to, when he wanted to do. Had that swing and miss slider tonight that we all know he has. It was very refreshing to see that.”
Everything about Gray’s evening had to be refreshing for the A’s, who have seen their ace go MIA since 2015. Last season, injuries hampered Gray, who made just 22 starts, going 5-11 with a 5.69 ERA, more than 2.5 runs higher than his previous career high.
The disappointment continued into 2017, when Gray began the season on the disabled list with a lat strain. After making two rehab starts, he went winless in his first three appearances with the A’s, and entered Thursday facing a Boston team that was the lone American League team he had yet to beat in his career.
But on Thursday, the sun shone. The Sonny we love might be coming through, at long last.
He wasn’t Clayton Kershaw, but his mojo was back. Save for early first inning struggles, Gray was stellar against a strong Red Sox team that usually pummels A’s pitching and has beaten the A’s nine of the last 10 matchups. Gray had batters whiffing on his sinkers, fastballs, curveballs and changeups.
“It didn’t matter,” Vogt said.
Vogt, who has caught Gray since the pitcher’s rookie season in 2013, knows that when Gray is on, he’s making batters swing at air.
“When he’s punching people out, that’s when you know Sonny is Sonny,” Vogt said. “He’s an ace, and aces punch people out. That’s what he did tonight.”
Gray struck out six of the last 10 batters he faced, and prided himself on it after the game.
“My last start I struggled putting guys away,” he said. “That’s really been a focus for a while now. I feel like my stuff is getting better. My stuff is the best it’s been in … I can’t remember when.”
We haven’t seen this Sonny Gray in a couple of years, though manager Bob Melvin doesn’t think Gray has ever changed.
“Everyone’s going to have a tough year,” Melvin said on Gray’s 2016 campaign. “There were injuries involved in it. But the stuff is always there, and he’s quite the competitor. I don’t fall into that and say he’s not who he is anymore. One year is not going to get me off who I think he is.”
Melvin added that Gray is the “kind of starter who wants to factor in and get a decision,” and that Gray would be happy with getting the win on Thursday.
He was right. It was Gray’s first in nearly 10 months, but it’s not like he was counting.
“I don’t know how long it’s been,” Gray said. “As a pitcher, you want to win games. You want to start a game that you can let the team win. That’s the most important thing as a pitcher — is to win. It’s nice to get a win for sure. Hopefully I can put together some good starts from here.”