The A’s did their offensive damage early Saturday night, and it turned out to be plenty for Sonny Gray.
Gray turned in his best start of the season in a 3-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners on a chilly evening at Safeco Field. Oakland scored twice in the first and once in the third, then took a nap with the bats the rest of the way. Gray (2-0) made it stand, firing seven innings of five-hit ball and tying a career high with nine strikeouts.
It was a tag-team effort to bring the victory home for him. Sean Doolittle pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and then retired the left-handed hitting Kyle Seager to lead off the ninth before giving way to right-hander Luke Gregerson.
The right-hander made things defense by allowing back to back singles to pinch-hitter Willie Bloomquist and Dustin Ackley. But he struck out Michael Saunders and got John Buck to ground out to nail down the victory. It was the first save situation for Oakland since Jim Johnson was demoted from the closer’s role Thursday.
Starting pitching report
The best chance -- the only chance, in fact -- to get to Gray this season has been early in games. He gave up his only run Saturday in the first, then held the Mariners to three hits over his final six innings. Gray has thrown 19 innings and allowed just four runs this season. All have come in the first three innings of the game.
The right-hander showed a little extra hop on his fastball, particularly in two-strike counts. He touched 96 mph on strikeouts of Robinson Cano and Dustin Ackley in the fourth and blew a 95 mph fastball by Abraham Almonte for strike three in the third. In the later innings, it was his off-speed stuff that tied up the Mariners.
A’s manager Bob Melvin played matchups in the late innings as he said he would. Doolittle was looking strong, having retired four in a row. But when the right-hadned hitting Bloomquist came in to pinch-hit with one out in the ninth, Melvin called on Gregerson ,who nailed down the white-knuckle save.
At the plate
The A’s got off to a fast start courtesy of the laser Josh Donaldson deposited in the left field seats. The two-run blast in the first inning off Erasmo Ramirez (1-2) was Donaldson’s second homer in the past three games.
Leading 2-1 in the third, the A’s notched another run in bizarre fashion. With runners on the corners, Brandon Moss drove a ball to left-center that Seattle left fielder Dustin Ackley appeared to make a sliding catch on. But the ball came out as he went to transfer it to his throwing hand, and it was ruled a no-catch under new MLB rules installed this season. As Josh Donaldson retreated back to first base, Moss passed him in the base line and was ruled out. Coco Crisp scored on the play and Moss was somehow credited with the oddest RBI single imaginable.
After that, the A’s went silent with the bats. They twice failed to get a runner home from third with less than two outs and totaled just seven hits.
In the field
Talk about a weird night. Ackley “dropped” another ball on the exchange from his glove to his throwing hand in the sixth. This time he fumbled the ball after seemingly catching Yoenis Cespedes’ liner. Only problem: Cespedes didn’t realize and began trotting back to the dugout without touching first. He was retired on an extremely rare 7-6-3 putout at first.
Josh Reddick, back in right field for the A’s after two games off, turned in a terrific effort to aid Gray’s cause in the bottom of the fourth. He cut off Logan Morrison’s base hit toward the corner and got the ball back in quick enough to keep Morrison to a single and prevent Kyle Seager from scoring from first. Gray then struck out Ackley to end the inning and preserve Oakland’s 3-1 lead.
Attendance fell off without Felix Hernandez out there mowing down hitters. Just 22,061 showed up.
The series finale is set for 1:10 p.m. Sunday afternoon, with Scott Kazmir (2-0, 2.03) taking the mound for the A’s and Chris Young (0-0, 0.00) on the hill for the Mariners.