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.

A's lineup: Healy moves into three spot, LaMarre gets first start

A's lineup: Healy moves into three spot, LaMarre gets first start

Bob Melvin has issued his lineup as the A's try to snap a five-game losing streak in Game 2 of a series against the Astros.

Oakland A's (10-13)

1. Jaff Decker (L) RF
2. Jed Lowrie (S) 2B
3. Ryon Healy (R) DH
4. Khris Davis (R) LF
5. Yonder Alonso (L) 1B
6. Trevor Plouffe (R) 3B
7. Stephen Vogt (L) C
8. Chad Pinder (R) SS
9. Ryan LaMarre (R) CF
Andrew Triggs -- RHP 


Houston Astros (15-8)

1. George Springer (R) CF
2. Josh Reddick (L) RF
3. Jose Altuve (R) 2B
4. Carlos Correa (R) SS
5. Carlos Beltran (S) LF
6. Yuli Gurriel (R) 1B
7. Brian McCann (L) C
8. Evan Gattis (R) DH
9. Alex Bregman (R) 3B
Joe Musgrove -- RHP

Reddick gets best of old roommate Healy, and the A's

Reddick gets best of old roommate Healy, and the A's

HOUSTON — Enduring a five-game losing streak is tough enough on its own.

Watching a former teammate play a part in prolonging the misery is worse.

Josh Reddick wasn’t the most dominant player on the field Friday for the Astros, but he picked his spots to make his presence felt, and that added a little salt to the wound for the A’s in a 9-4 defeat that was their fifth in a row. They’ve now lost 10 straight times to Houston.

Reddick was mad at himself after not making the play on Ryon Healy’s double in the sixth inning. He got another chance in the eighth and robbed his former roommate with a terrific catch as he slammed into the wall to end the inning. That stranded two runners and preserved what was a 7-4 lead at the time.

“Any time you’re playing against your former team you wanna do well against them. Beating them makes it a little bit sweeter,” Reddick said. “But when you can make a catch against a guy you became pretty good buddies with in a tight situation, it adds more to that.”

After Healy got his first big league call-up last July, and before the A’s traded Reddick to the Dodgers on Aug. 1, Reddick invited the rookie to move into his house as he cut his teeth in the bigs.

“I’m going to be giving Ryon a lot of crap, I guess you could say,” Reddick said afterward. “He gave me a little signal and finger wave and shook his head on the (double). I got him back and a little bit of payback.”

Reddick, who signed a four-year $52 million free agent deal with Houston in the offseason, was a pest to the A’s in more unconventional ways too. Twice he reached base on catcher’s interference calls when his bat hit the mitt of Stephen Vogt, another of Reddick’s closest friends on the A’s. It happened in the bottom of the first and contributed to the Astros’ three-run rally that tied the game off Jharel Cotton after the A’s had grabbed a 3-0 lead on Khris Davis’ three-run homer.

Vogt talked about both interference plays with mild disgust, more upset with the situation itself than Reddick personally.

“Typically I’m pretty far back behind the batter," Vogt said. “Reddick, I guess, has a pretty long swing when he’s trying to go the other way. … It’s just one of those freak things that obviously I’m not real thrilled about. It’s just frustrating. You don’t see it very often. It’s not really how you swing the bat typically, but he does a good job going the other way, and it’s on me. I’ve gotta make sure I’m far enough back and not reaching for the ball.”

As for Reddick’s important catch in the eighth, Vogt said:

“It’s hard to see him in a different uniform, and I know he loved it here as well. It’s hard to see him playing against us 19 times. To see him making catches like that, it’s not very much fun when he’s not wearing green.”

However, the A’s have more pressing issues than getting stung by old friends. They’ve struck out 57 times over the past five games, and with each day that passes, it’s increasingly clear how much they miss the speed and playmaking ability of center fielder Rajai Davis, as well as the offensive production of shortstop Marcus Semien. Both are on the disabled list, Davis for the short term with a strained hamstring and Semien likely for a couple of months due to wrist surgery.

Cotton wasn’t sharp, allowing a career-high 10 hits and failing to protect two early leads he was given. Those are the growing pains that will come for a rookie pitcher. What the A’s can’t afford are three-error nights like they had Friday and continuing to whiff at their current rate.

“When we went through our winning streak, we played real clean games, and now we’re a little shoddy,” manager Bob Melvin said. “There’s a psychological play that goes with that. When you’re not making plays and giving extra outs, it makes it tougher on pitchers and tougher mentally.”