Gray skies turn blue in rookie's Oakland debut

Gray credits trust in Norris for strong outing

Gray skies turn blue in rookie's Oakland debut
August 15, 2013, 5:00 pm
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Sonny Gray earned his first career win by throwing eight shutout innings against the Astros Thursday. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

OAKLAND -- Sonny Gray thought his day was done.

Seven shutout innings. Three hits. Ninety-nine pitches. A five-run lead. Sure, the rookie right-hander had done his job, so it was time for Gray to kick back, kick up his feet and let the A's bullpen take over for the final two innings.

Then Bob Melvin approached Gray, who was making his Oakland debut in his fourth career big league appearance.

"Let's go get 'em," the A's manager told Gray. "One more."

Neither Gray, nor Melvin, nor the crowd was disappointed as Gray began his legend with another scoreless frame, helping the A's to a 5-0 series-salvaging victory over Houston on Thursday afternoon, after 5-4 and 2-1 defeats.

[RECAP: Gray, Freiman lift A's to win over Astros]

"I was ready, with a little more adrenaline," Gray said.

"It was good, for him to have the confidence to leave me in there."

It was also good for the health of the A's bullpen. Melvin acknowledged that he did not want to use any of his three back-of-the-game guys -- Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Grant Balfour -- so he leaned on his phenom a little something extra.

"Obviously, I'm always uncomfortable when when of our younger guys throws any more than 110 pitches," Melvin said. "But eight more pitches to me, with the adrenaline he had, I felt it really helped us out as for as the bullpen."

Gray's final line, then: eight innings, no runs, four hits, nine strikeouts, one walk and wild pitch in a professional career high 118 pitches, 75 for strikes.

Perhaps most impressive was the fact that Gray was not really locked into the game until after the third inning.

"And then," Melvin said, "all of a sudden he was off to the races."

Gray kept Houston's hitters off balance all day by mixing in his 93-mph fastball with a knee-buckling curve, and adding dashes of his change-up and a smidgen of a slider.

He does not dominate with a split-fingered fastball, but with his slight build -- he's listed as being 5-feet-11, 180 pounds -- Gray draws similarities to former A's right-hander Tim Hudson. And Gray, the A's top draft choice in 2011, is just fine with being held up next to another former SEC ace, what with Gray being a Vanderbilt man and Hudson playing at Auburn.

"I've been getting comparisons since high school," Gray said. "He's one of my favorite pitchers, one of the greatest pitchers."

Gray caught himself. He had to keep composed, which was the key on the mound all afternoon.

And the man who caught Gray through seven innings was just as impressed.

"He showed a lot of composure," said catcher Derek Norris, whose back stiffened up on him again and he had to leave after the seventh, though he thinks he'll be good to go against another left-handed pitcher on Sunday.

"He has a lot of energy."

Told it looked as though many of Gray's strikeout victims chased curves that broke out of the zone, Norris smiled.

"I don't know how you couldn't chase it," Norris said. "It stays on the same plane as his fastball.

"He's exciting…I'm looking forward to catching him several hundred more times."

So there you go.

Before then, though, the 23-year-old Gray will need help lugging out his mementos from the day, which included the scorecard and a box of game-used baseballs, including the one used to record the final out, which gave him his first career big league win, in his second start.

He has 20 strikeouts in 18 innings over four appearances now, and has an ERA of 1.00.

Heady stuff, or expected?

"It's sinking in right now," he said as he surveyed the crush of reporters and cameras surrounding his locker. "But this is a great feeling. I'm just glad we could come out with a victory after losing the last two nights."

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