Rewind: Gray, A's finish on right side of one-run game

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Rewind: Gray, A's finish on right side of one-run game

OAKLAND -– Sonny Gray didn’t feel his best, but he was pitching Wednesday in the type of game that brings out his best.

The A’s needed a victory in a bad way, and the fact it was just game No. 3 on the schedule didn’t diminish that. Their ace was there to answer the call.

Hardly full strength after battling the stomach flu, Gray dug deep and led Oakland to a 2-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox that allowed everyone in the home clubhouse to let out a collective exhale.

“Especially when we've lost a couple of tough ones, I think he even gets more inspired about being the guy to go out there and get deep in the game and give us a chance to win,” manager Bob Melvin said.

[STIGLICH: Instant Replay: Gray stifles White Sox in A's first win of 2016]

Gray held Chicago to three hits over seven innings, walking four but finding a way to get outs on a night when he knew early he didn’t have his best fastball. He leaned on his off-speed more and his natural movement. “He’s a damn good pitcher,” Sox catcher Alex Avila said. “I asked him, ‘How are you feeling?’, and he said, ‘Not too good.’ It didn’t seem that way.”

Gray registered a strong first impression with first-year teammate Ryan Madson, who compared Gray to one of his old Philadelphia Phillies teammates.

“He’s so polished, it’s crazy,” Madson said. “He reminds me kind of a right-handed Cliff Lee, where he’s just pounding the strike zone, real aggressive in the strike zone the whole game. And that’s tough to do as a starter.”

While Gray’s excellence often can be taken for granted, what made this an important win for the A’s (1-2) was what those around him did. The defense was solid, particularly shortstop Marcus Semien.

“That might be as good a game as we've seen him play,” Melvin said.

The A’s got just enough offense in the first two innings. Jed Lowrie delivered a sacrifice fly in the first – he’s driven in five of Oakland’s nine runs this season – and Mark Canha went the opposite way with a second-inning homer to right.

“It was a huge win for us,” Canha said. “Not only to win the game but win it in the fashion we won, a close game with the bullpen dealing like they did.”

John Axford handled the eighth, and with closer Sean Doolittle unavailable after pitching on back-to-back nights to start the series, Melvin went with Madson in the ninth. He allowed a leadoff single but closed it out, ending with a strikeout of Avila on a 3-2 changeup.

Madson gives Melvin a nice “Plan B” for the ninth when it’s needed, but Madson –- who saved 32 games for the Phillies in 2011 –- said roles aren’t something he and his bullpen mates are too concerned about.

“Any of the seven guys can pitch at any time,” he said. “That’s everybody’s motto, with Doolittle at the end. He’s our anchor.”

And there’s no doubt who the anchor of the rotation is. The A’s obviously take the field with confidence anytime they’re backing Gray, who is 8-1 with a 1.95 ERA in April for his career.

“If we wanna be as good as we think we can be,” he said, “we need to start winning these types of games. Tonight was a step in that direction.”

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.”

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Astros' sweep of once-hot A's

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Astros' sweep of once-hot A's

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND — Under some circumstances, a 4-4 homestand against the Yankees and Astros wouldn’t seem so bad for the A’s.

This wasn’t the way they would have preferred it however.

After sweeping New York in four at the Coliseum, the A’s proceeded to drop four in a row to Houston, including Thursday's 12-9 loss, making this an historic stay at home whether they wanted it that way or not. Only one other time in the past 106 years had the A’s played back-to-back four-game series and swept the first while being swept in the second.

The first time it happened was in September 1977, when they were swept by Texas before taking the broom to Kansas City.

Thursday’s contest got out of hand early, with the Astros jumping out to a 10-0 lead by the second inning before Oakland came roaring back late.

Jesse Hahn (3-5) was out of whack from his first batter and lasted just two innings, getting hammered for a career-high 10 runs (nine earned) and allowing two home runs.

On the same day Oakland designated Stephen Vogt for assignment, another noteworthy former Athletic enjoyed a huge day against his old team as Josh Reddick finished just a single short of the cycle and scored four runs.

But the A’s came alive for a six-run rally in the eighth to close to within 12-9 and make the Astros sweat it.

But Oakland wound up falling a season high-tying 11 games under .500 at 31-42. A six-game road trip is up next to play the White Sox and, once again, the Astros, who ran their winning streak at the Coliseum to 10 and have won 15 of their past 16 against the A’s.

Short day for Hahn: It was clear early that Hahn didn’t have his ‘A’ game. He hit George Springer with a 3-1 pitch to begin the game — Springer exited with a left hand contusion — then walked the next two batters to load the bases with no outs. He limited the damage to two runs in the first, but the Astros poured it on for eight runs in the second, including three-run homers from Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez.

Maxwell returns with strong game: With Vogt designated for assignment, Bruce Maxwell was promoted to assume catching duties alongside Josh Phegley, and Maxwell enjoyed a 3-for-4 day, including an RBI double as the A’s rallied in the eighth.

The other new arrival also shines: Matt Olson, also called up Thursday as Matt Chapman went on the 10-day disabled list, went 2-for-3 with two RBI.

Reddick has big day: Reddick doubled in the second, homered in the sixth and tripled in the eighth, but didn’t get a chance to complete the cycle against his former club.

Smith steadies things on mound: : Josh Smith took over after Hahn left the game and threw three scoreless innings, striking out four and keeping manager Bob Melvin from having to empty his bullpen.