Rewind: Gray keeps it together, A's win streak reaches six

gray-sonny-as-grey-rewind.jpg

Rewind: Gray keeps it together, A's win streak reaches six

TORONTO – Friday’s game began as an eagerly anticipated matchup of Sonny Gray vs. former A’s teammate Josh Donaldson.

The most important battle wound up being Sonny Gray vs. the sixth-inning adversity that threatened to unravel all that had gone so good for the A’s up to that point.

Gray faced a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the sixth, with the heart of the Blue Jays’ dangerous batting order due up and a Rogers Center crowd waiting to burst into delirium. Instead, Gray held the damage to one run, order was restored, and the A’s steered their way to an 8-5 victory that ran their winning streak to six games, their longest since a six-gamer from July 3-8, 2014.

“The key to the game was probably that sixth inning,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said.

[RECAP: Instant Replay: A's bats swing away, escape Blue Jays in win]

The fact of the matter is it’s not quite as easy as the A’s are making it look right now. The hits are coming in bunches, and the confidence flowing through the batting order, one through nine, can nearly be felt through your flat-screen TV.

But it takes just one or two ill-advised pitches to completely shift the complexion of a game. Particularly against an offense as dangerous as Toronto’s, and particularly with Donaldson as the focal point of it. The former A’s star said with sincerity before the game that he’ll always cherish his years in green and gold.

“Ten years from now, I’ll still remember that time, “ he said. “It was pretty special for me.”

But the reigning American League MVP also admitted there’s a little extra kick of adrenaline facing the A’s, especially with their ace on the mound.

Gray struck him out in the first, as Donaldson’s bat went flying out toward shortstop when he swung through a curve. He singled in the fourth and drew a walk that loaded the bases in the sixth with no outs. Suddenly, Gray found himself falling behind in counts. The A’s led 6-1, but with Jose Bautista batting, the Jays were one swing away from getting right back in the game.

Instead, Gray buckled down. He retired Bautista on a sacrifice fly that let steam out of the rally. Cleanup man Edwin Encarnacion flied out to center, and after Justin Smoak walked to load the bases again, Gray got Josh Thole on a groundout and the A’s returned to the dugout still leading 6-2.

[WATCH: Inside Pitch: Gray vs Donaldson one of best matchups in MLB]

“I dug myself in a hole and kind of was able to dig myself out of it,” Gray said.

Similar to the New York Yankees, whom the A’s just swept, the Blue Jays are scuffling offensively more than their star-studded lineup would suggest they should. Compounding matters for Toronto was Friday’s news of first baseman Chris Colabello’s 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

But Toronto battled back Friday, pulling to within 6-5 before the resurgent Khris Davis delivered a two-out, two-run double for the A’s to add some important insurance runs. “There’s never a comfy lead against that offense,” Davis said. “But scoring after they score is kind of deflating (for the opponent).”

And there to close it out in the ninth for the A’s, once again, was Ryan Madson. His seven saves are tied with the Royals’ Wade Davis for most in the American League, but Melvin still isn’t anointing Madson his official closer.

Matchups dictate who he goes with, Melvin said, adding that he was planning to use Doolittle for the ninth until Ryan Dull found trouble in the eighth and Melvin instead called on Doolittle then (the lefty allowed a walk and Kevin Pillar’s two-run single to make it a 6-5 game at that time).

Job titles — or lack thereof — hardly matter to the A’s right now. Their 7-0 road start is third-best in Oakland history behind the 11-0 start of the 1981 club and an 8-0 run by the 1990 squad.

They’re beating opponents with grand gestures — like Chris Coghlan’s three-run homer Friday. They’re also doing it with subtle victories within the game, as Gray demonstrated in a sixth inning that could have taken an ugly turn but didn’t.

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.”