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.”


Healy exits early, Blackburn suffers first loss with A's

Healy exits early, Blackburn suffers first loss with A's

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Michael Conforto hit a pair of two-run homers and Jerry Blevins rescued the Mets' bullpen with a five-out save as New York held off the Oakland Athletics 7-5 on Friday night for its third straight victory.

T.J. Rivera put the Mets ahead in the sixth inning with a two-run single that turned into a Little League home run. Rivera came all the way around to score on the play after third baseman Matt Chapman, trying to get Rivera at second, threw the ball away into right field for a costly error that made it 5-3.

Moments earlier, New York loaded the bases when Lucas Duda's bad-hop infield single struck first baseman Ryon Healy near the temple. Healy left the game and walked off under his own power with a swollen bruise next to his left eye.

Conforto's second homer made it 7-3 in the seventh. Oakland rallied for two in the eighth, but Blevins replaced closer Addison Reed with the bases loaded and got five straight outs against his former team for his fifth major league save and first this season.

Normally a lefty specialist, Blevins recorded five outs in a game for the first time since 2014 with Washington. He retired All-Star slugger Yonder Alonso on a foul popup and struck out Khris Davis to escape the eighth-inning jam.

"We just tried to find some matchups that worked," Mets manager Terry Collins said.

Yoenis Cespedes had three hits after raising eyebrows when he told the San Francisco Chronicle before the game that he wants to play the final season of his career in Oakland, his first big league team.

Cespedes, who signed a $110 million, four-year contract in the offseason to remain with the Mets, also said A's manager Bob Melvin is his favorite skipper and he doesn't think there's a better one.

"Bob's a great manager. I don't blame him," Collins said after the game. "This is the first I've heard of it."

After the game, Cespedes clarified his comments while speaking with reporters through a translator and said he meant no disrespect toward Collins or the Mets.

Yoenis Cespedes: 'I’m going to play the last year of my career with Oakland'

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AP

Yoenis Cespedes: 'I’m going to play the last year of my career with Oakland'

After signing a four-year, $36 million deal with the A's before the 2012 season, Yoenis Cespedes' time in Oakland came to an end halfway through his third season.

The current Mets star certainly hasn't forgetten his time in Oakland, sharing his desire to end his career back where he started it to the San Francisco Chronicle

“I wish that happens,” Cespedes said on Friday with the A's taking on his Mets in New York. “I told (Jerry) Blevins, ‘I don’t know how many years I’m going to play, but I’m going to play the last year of my career with Oakland.’ I don’t know if that’s possible or not, but that’s my goal.”

Cespedes, who has also played in Boston and Detroit, loved his time in Oakland. 

“I still love the A’s, they were the first team to give me an opportunity to play in the big leagues," Cespedes said. “I love Oakland all the time.”

Another key reason for Cespedes' hope to return to the A's one day is how much he enjoyed playing for manager Bob Melvin. 

“I tell my guys here all the time that he’s the best manager for me so far,” Cespedes said. “I don’t think there’s a better manager than Melvin.”

Cespedes hit .262 with 66 home runs in his time with the A's. Over his six-year career, the slugging outfielder owns a career .272 batting average with 146 homers.