OAKLAND –- Sonny Gray’s run of impressive starts came to an abrupt halt.
The right-hander was knocked around in his worst start of the season, and the A’s fell 7-3 to Tampa Bay on Wednesday, denying them a three-game sweep.
On the heels of being named the American League’s Pitcher of the Month for July, Gray got tagged for a season-high 10 hits and a career-high-tying six earned runs.
The 4 1/3-inning outing was his shortest of the season.
He was due to hit a valley at some point, and with the A’s still stumbling along offensively, they weren’t capable of hitting their way back into this one. Jeremy Hellickson (1-1) and two Rays relievers held the A’s to just four hits.
Over the past 12 games, the majors’ highest-scoring team has averaged just 3.75 runs per contest.
The A’s have not won more than two games in a row since a six-game winning streak from July 3-8.
Starting pitching report
Gray (12-5) had trouble locating the strike zone, tying his season high with four walks. And when he did throw the ball over the plate, it got whacked.
The Rays got to him for a run in the second, but he escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third unscored upon. In the fourth, a slow roller from lumbering catcher Jose Molina went for an infield single. Then Kevin Kiermaier hit the first pitch from Gray for a two-run homer to right. After Ben Zobrist doubled, Evan Longoria skied a blooper to shallow center that fell between Coco Crisp and Alberto Callaspo for a run-scoring single that made it 4-0. A’s manager Bob Melvin came with the hook after Desmond Jennings singled up the middle to bring home two more for a 6-0 Rays cushion.
Gray threw 90 pitches by the time he exited in the fifth, and he ended a streak of six games in a row in which he went at least six innings and gave up one earned run or fewer. That was tied with Cory Lidle (in 2002) for the longest such streak by an A’s pitcher since at least 1914.
Jesse Chavez and Fernando Abad combined for 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief after Gray left the game.
At the plate
One would have thought the A’s would have their chances against Hellickson.
He was making his fourth start since coming back from elbow surgery and hadn’t completed as much as five innings in any of his previous three outings in the majors this season. But he surrendered just two hits Wednesday in seven innings. He struck out three and didn’t allow a walk.
Oakland got on the scoreboard courtesy of Eric Sogard, who started at shortstop for the second day in place of Jed Lowrie, who has a finger injury. Sogard cleared the wall in right field in the sixth, snapping a career-long streak of 110 games without a homer. The A’s made it look better cosmetically in the ninth, when Josh Reddick doubled home two runs against Grant Balfour.
In the field
An error from Sogard contributed to some fifth-inning ugliness, when the Rays scored three times to increase a 4-0 lead to 7-0. He let an on-the-money throw from first baseman Brandon Moss glance off his glove on a potential fielder’s choice grounder. That runner eventually scored on Jennings’ two-run single.
Wednesday’s matinee drew a crowd of 21,513.
The Minnesota Twins, bringing up the rear in the A.L. Central, arrive for a four-game series that stretches through the weekend. Jon Lester (11-7, 2.59) makes his second start for Oakland in Thursday’s 7:05 p.m. opener, opposing Yohan Pino (1-3, 4.57). Friday – Scott Kazmir (12-4, 2.53) vs. Kyle Gibson (10-8, 3.93), 7:05 p.m. Saturday – Jeff Samardzija (2-1, 3.09) vs. TBA, 6:05 p.m. Sunday – Jason Hammel (1-4, 7.15) vs. Phil Hughes (11-8, 4.01), 1:05 p.m.