Gray finds groove, pitches A's to his first victory of the 2017 season

Gray finds groove, pitches A's to his first victory of the 2017 season

OAKLAND — All seems right in the A’s world when Sonny Gray is dealing as he did Thursday night.

After a rough first, the right-hander found a groove and held the Boston Red Sox to just one hit over his final five innings as the A’s rang up an 8-3 victory to start a six-game homestand on a high note.

Plagued by injuries and inconsistency since the start of last season, Gray found the win column for the first time since July 26, 2016. More importantly from the team perspective, the 2015 All-Star showed continued signs of rounding into form in his fourth start since coming off the disabled list.

“Sonny was absolutely outstanding,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “The first inning, they jumped on him a little bit. But he looked as good as I’ve seen him in a very long time. He felt good. He had all four pitches working, and he really put the ball where he wanted to.”

Gray struck out eight in the 100th start of his career. That’s the most he’s punched out since that start last summer at Texas when he’d pocketed his last win. The tone of his postgame media session Thursday was proof that he’s feeling better on the mound these days.

He’s spent so many past postgame interviews searching for ways to explain what went wrong during a particular outing. On Thursday night, Gray got the chance to expand on all that went right. Most importantly, after getting ahead in the count, he found a way to put guys away with a slider that had Sox hitters chasing all night.

“After my last start, I really struggled putting guys away, and that’s something that’s kind of been a focus for a while now,” Gray said. “I feel like my stuff is getting better, and now just putting together a whole start is something I’m going to have to do. But I feel like my stuff is the best it’s been in I can’t remember when.”

That last statement is huge from the standpoint that Gray is pitching back-to-back in the rotation with Kendall Graveman. When both are dealing, the A’s have to like their chances of having a chance to win on two consecutive days.

And Thursday’s victory was big because it helped the A’s wash out the taste of a 1-5 road trip. The Red Sox, who arrived at their hotel at 4 a.m. Thursday morning after playing 13 innings in St. Louis, had won nine of their previous 10 against the A’s.

They scored twice off Gray in the first. But Oakland answered right back with three in the bottom half when Jed Lowrie drilled a two-run homer to center and Khris Davis followed with his 12th homer, a drive to right-center off Hector Velazquez, who was touched for six runs in his major league debut.

The A’s got a two-run homer from Chad Pinder in their three-run fourth when they broke a 3-3 tie and took the lead for good.

Gray said he threw his changeup a bit more than usual. Combining his fastball, slider and curve, it gave him a complete mix to throw at Boston. In light of Gray going 5-11 last season with a 5.69 ERA, manager Bob Melvin was asked after the game if he felt confident to declare Gray was on his way back to the form that made him a Cy Young finalist in 2015.

“I never think that he's not,” Melvin said in backing his pitcher. “Even when he had a tough year last year — everybody's going to have a tough year. There were injuries involved in it. But the stuff is always there, and he's quite the competitor. One year is not going to get me off who I think he is.”


Lowrie's big hit sparks A's, gets road trip started right

Lowrie's big hit sparks A's, gets road trip started right

NEW YORK — Jed Lowrie is the counterpoint to the A’s home run-crazed offensive attack.

Sure, the A’s switch-hitting second baseman can muscle up and clear the fence. But Lowrie’s approach is more about spraying base hits all around and using the whole field. He was at it again in Friday’s 4-1 A’s victory over the Yankees, going 3-for-4 and delivering an RBI single that snapped a scoreless tie in the eighth.

“I always have to carry his glove out to second for him because he’s always on base,” shortstop Adam Rosales said. “He looks really good at the plate right now, and he’s kind of just putting us on his back. It’s contagious to see a guy like that doing so well.”

Lowrie bumped his average up to .310 with Friday’s game. Until he grounded out in the sixth, he’d notched hits in seven consecutive at-bats dating back to Tuesday night. That streak fell one shy of the A’s record for most consecutive hits. Three players share the record at eight — Josh Reddick (in 2016), Dave Magadan (1997) and Brent Gates (1994).

“It’s all about the work,” said Lowrie, whose 15 doubles are tied for third in the AL. “Everything comes together when you’re seeing it well. I’m seeing it well but the approach hasn’t changed.”

With two runners aboard and two out in the eighth, Lowrie punched an RBI single to right off Tyler Clippard for the game’s first run. It was the breakthrough the A’s needed after they’d struck out 13 times in seven innings against Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka. Khris Davis followed Lowrie’s hit by beating out an infield single to score another run. Then Stephen Vogt added a two-run homer in top of the ninth to make it 4-0, and that provided some cushion as closer Santiago Casilla gave up a run and made things tenser than they should have been in the bottom half.

Davis, the most fearsome hitter in Oakland’s lineup, is thrilled to have a productive Lowrie batting in front of him as the No. 3 man.

“Somebody’s gotta hit .300,” Davis said. “All year he’s been our most consistent hitter and best hitter. I hope he keeps going.”

The A’s have won four in a row at Yankee Stadium dating back to last year. It’s their longest winning streak in the Bronx since a four-gamer at the old stadium in 2006. And it was a good way to begin a seven-game road trip for the A’s, who came in with the league’s worst road record at 6-15.

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Rosales had puffiness under his right eye and said he was anticipating a shiner after his hard head-first dive into third base didn’t go as planned in the eighth. He scraped up his face pretty good after going first to third on an errant pickoff throw and taking a hard dive into third, only to find the dirt wasn’t giving.

After addressing reporters, Rosales said he was on his way to find an ice pack.

Manaea's 'big mentality switch' keys success in first Yankee Stadium start

Manaea's 'big mentality switch' keys success in first Yankee Stadium start

NEW YORK — Dealt another dose of injury bad news Friday, the A’s got to temporarily push those thoughts aside once Sean Manaea took the mound.

The big lefty shined in his first career outing at Yankee Stadium, matching Masahiro Tanaka pitch for pitch and spinning his best start of the season in a 4-1 A’s victory.

After he walked leadoff man Brett Gardner on four pitches in the first, it conjured up memories of his five-walk outing two starts ago at Seattle. But from that point on Manaea locked in, allowing just four hits over seven innings and striking out eight. Not a single Yankee advanced past second base against him.

“He was out there chucking,” A’s left fielder Khris Davis said. “He’s got that Chris Sale stuff where people are swinging and missing in the zone. It’s great to see that.”

The day began with news that Opening Night starter Kendall Graveman and fellow starter Jesse Hahn both are likely headed to the disabled list with shoulder and triceps strains, respectively. It continues the cycle of injury woes for the A’s, who have lost every starter except Andrew Triggs to at least one stint on the 10-day DL. With two-fifths of the rotation down for an unknown period of time, Manaea takes on an even more significant role.

“For a young guy we’ve leaned on him pretty hard since he’s gotten here, but now probably a little bit more so,” manager Bob Melvin said.

Yet no matter what is unfolding elsewhere on the pitching staff, the challenge for Manaea always stems from within. He’s talked often this season about the need to be mentally tougher and more aggressive attacking the strike zone. After the leadoff walk to Gardner, Manaea (3-3) said a switch flipped inside of him.

“I was thinking that these guys weren’t gonna hit me at all, and that I just needed to throw strikes and trust the defense,” he said. “I know I can get these guys out. To me it was a big mentality switch, and just believing in myself and trusting everything.”

Tanaka, who has disappointed this season to the tune of a 6.56 ERA entering Friday, put it together against Oakland and rang up a career-high 13 strikeouts without a single walk. But Manaea was more than up to the task, keeping New York off the board until the A’s scored twice in the eighth to snap a scoreless tie off former Athletic Tyler Clippard, who relieved Tanaka to start that inning.

“He was pitching with a lot of confidence, and that’s what I love to see,” A’s catcher Stephen Vogt said of Manaea. “He wants the ball, wanted to keep going out there. It was awesome.”