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).
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.
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.