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).

[STIGLICH: Morning After: Looking to change luck, Manaea shaves 'Samo-fro']

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.

A's lineup: Young faces throughout as Athletics start series vs White Sox

A's lineup: Young faces throughout as Athletics start series vs White Sox

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Astros-A's coverage begins at 4 p.m. with Pregame Live on NBC Sports California and streaming right here.

The latest A's youth movement embarks on its first road trip when they visit the south side of Chicago and the White Sox. Manager Bob Melvin has issued his lineup for Game 1 of the series.

Chicago White Sox:
1. Melky Cabrera (S) LF
2. Jose Abreu (R) 1B
3. Avisail Garcia (R) RF
4. Todd Frazier (R) 3B
5. Matt Davidson (R) DH
6. Tim Anderson (R) SS
7. Yolmer Sanchez (S) 2B
8. Kevan Smith (R) C
9. Adam Engel (R) CF
RHP -- Mike Pelfrey 

Oakland A's:
1. Matt Joyce (L) LF
2. Matt Olson (L) RF
3. Jed Lowrie (S) 2B
4. Khris Davis (R) DH
5. Yonder Alonso (L) 1B
6. Ryon Healy (R) 3B
7. Chad Pinder (R) SS
8. Bruce Maxwell (L) C
9. Jaycob Brugman (L) CF
RHP -- Jharel Cotton

 

New-look A's continue the youth movement with Maxwell's arrival

New-look A's continue the youth movement with Maxwell's arrival

OAKLAND — The A’s set off for Chicago on Thursday evening to begin their next road trip, and how their dynamic has changed over the course of one week.

They began their most recent homestand by cutting ties with veteran third baseman Trevor Plouffe to make room for hotshot prospect Matt Chapman. On Thursday, catcher Stephen Vogt suffered the same fate as Plouffe, getting designated for assignment to make room for another young player in Bruce Maxwell.

The calendar may still read June, with more than half of the season remaining, but the A’s are cleaning house, undergoing a reboot and playing the rest of 2017 with an emphasis on what lies ahead.

Five of the nine position players in their starting lineup for Thursday’s 12-9 loss to the Houston Astros are what you would consider “future” guys — center fielder Jaycob Brugman, third baseman Ryon Healy, second baseman Chad Pinder, Maxwell and right fielder Matt Olson.

They will shuffle around the diamond a bit, and Olson may only stay with the big club until Chapman comes off the disabled list (though Olson’s full-time status in the bigs doesn’t seem far off). Regardless, the plan is crystal clear — the A’s are hitching their wagon to their young core and are prepared to let them develop at the major league level, with whatever successes and failures may come with the growth process.

“We do get excited about giving these guys playing time,” A’s general manager David Forst said before Thursday’s game.

The Astros finished off a four-game sweep of Oakland with their 12-9 victory, jumping out to a 10-0 lead and then holding on after the A’s mounted a late charge. Glance up and down the box score, and those key young players were instrumental in so much that went right for the A’s.

Maxwell went 3-for-4 with an RBI. Olson drove in two runs. Pinder had two hits and an RBI. Brugman chipped in an RBI single and walked twice. That was the silver lining on a day that starting pitcher Jesse Hahn struggled mightily, allowing nine earned runs in just two innings.

“These guys are gonna be important,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “The last thing you want to see when you’re down 10-0 is guys just cash it in, and that wasn’t the case. These guys all have something to play for. They’re playing for jobs. And in the future, starting jobs.”

Sometime in the not-too-distant future, middle infielder Franklin Barreto will join the mix from Triple-A Nashville. For now, an immediate storyline is the health of Chapman, who joined the 10-day disabled list with a case of cellulitis (bacterial infection) in his left knee. The A’s checked him into a hospital Wednesday night to get an intravenous antibiotic, after his condition “plateaued” with oral antibiotics, according to Forst.

He said Chapman is likely to leave the hospital Friday, and the A’s are hopeful the rookie third baseman will be able to return when he’s eligible to come off the D.L. His stint can be backdated to Monday, meaning Chapman is eligible to return next Thursday at Houston.

He’s part of the youth movement that resulted in Vogt getting shown the exit. Maxwell sent Vogt a text message wishing him the best Thursday morning, and Vogt quickly responded, wishing him the best. That meant a lot to Maxwell, who didn’t learn until Thursday morning that his roster spot was coming at Vogt’s expense.

But Maxwell said he’s excited to be surrounded by so many players that he’s advanced through the minors with.

“Once we get everybody acclimated to each other and the game up here,” he said, “I feel like we could potentially set up a turning point for this organization for years to come.”