Notes: A's pitching coach confident Sonny Gray will rebound

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Notes: A's pitching coach confident Sonny Gray will rebound

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A’s pitching coach Curt Young said he doesn’t think Sonny Gray is far from getting his season back on course.

Gray takes the mound in Sunday’s road trip finale against Tampa Bay coming off the poorest three-start stretch of his career. He is 0-3 with a 12.79 ERA and .362 opponents’ batting average in three outings since he beat the Blue Jays on April 22.

A Cy Young finalist last season, Gray hasn’t had the command he typically does lately and has left far too many pitches in the wheelhouse for opposing hitters.

“Executing one pitch at a time. If you keep it as simple as that, that process is going to work for him,” Young said Saturday.

Gray threw his between-start side session Wednesday, and both he and Young said they don’t believe his issues have anything to do with mechanics. Gray also has said he feels just fine physically.

“Nothing mechanically, just executing. That’s his strength,” Young said. “And him being down in the zone with his movement has always been his strength.”

Gray finding his form obviously has big ramifications for the A’s pitching staff. But his fortunes also are a source of great interest across the majors. With next winter’s free agent crop of starting pitchers considered a particularly weak one, there’s thought that contending teams that need a starter might be more aggressive in trying to trade for one before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline (the deadline has been pushed back a day from July 31).

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Earlier this week, ESPN’s Jim Bowden ranked Gray the No. 2 trade target among starting pitchers, behind only the Miami Marlins’ Jose Fernandez. (Interesting side note: Bowden ranked Rich Hill the fourth-best trade target and considers the lefty the “most likely” pitcher to be dealt between now and Aug. 1).

Take all that speculation for what it’s worth, and it’s important to note that both A’s executive V.P. of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst have repeatedly denied any interest in trading Gray. Where the A’s are in the standings, how he’s pitching, and what kind of tempting offers potential trade suitors might present, will obviously factor heavily into whether the A’s eventually consider dealing Gray.

The immediate focus is on helping Gray rediscover the form that made him an All-Star last season. A’s manager Bob Melvin said after Gray’s last start that this period is a challenge for the 26-year-old pitcher because it’s really the first time in his career that he’s struggled for any semi-extended length of time.

Young believes Gray is equipped to right the ship.

“He understands everybody is going to struggle somewhere along the line,” Young said. “His has come now. It comes down to him sticking with his strengths. He’ll get himself back in line.”

Gray was happy with his side work since his last start and said he feels good going into Sunday.

“I think it’s just trusting the process,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything mechanical. I feel confident.”

Worth noting: Gray has a 7.01 ERA in five starts with Josh Phegley catching and a 4.05 mark in two starts with Stephen Vogt catching, though that’s a rather small sample size to draw any direct conclusions from. Vogt is expected to be behind the plate Sunday. Phegley has been nursing a sore right knee.

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Melvin, with a smile, came as close as he’s ever come to definitively anointing Ryan Madson as the full-time closer.

“I think at this point in time Madson is probably the guy we’re looking to,” he declared before Saturday’s game against the Rays.

The humor came in the unspoken understanding that Madson has commanded the closer’s role by going 9-for-9 in save opportunities. Melvin had been maintaining all along that he was deciding who to use in the ninth – Madson or Sean Doolittle -- based on matchups.

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.