Rewind: A hard day's work ends well for A's Sonny Gray

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Rewind: A hard day's work ends well for A's Sonny Gray

OAKLAND – The manager’s handshake typically is the sign of a job well done for a starting pitcher.

For A’s ace Sonny Gray, a handshake from Bob Melvin was something to avoid after the fifth inning Saturday. His pitch count already at 100, Gray badly wanted to take the mound again for the sixth.

“To me, if I don't look at him he might not take me out,” Gray said afterward. “I was waiting for the handshake, and in the back of my mind I was like, 'Maybe he's going to give me the handshake, but if I just take a hard right turn and don't put my hand out, maybe he'll let me go back out there.’"

Gray got his wish and turned in his best inning of the afternoon before handing things over to his bullpen in a 5-3 A’s victory over the Kansas City Royals. Gray struck out his final two batters of the sixth, capping a 114-pitch outing that was no masterpiece but oh-so-important for Oakland’s pitching staff.

The A’s bullpen has been absorbing too many innings so far this season due to the starters not getting deep enough in games. The problem Saturday was that the Royals put together some tough two-out at-bats, making Gray work harder and longer. It didn’t help that there were several ground balls hit to the right side that weren’t converted into outs.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Early offense, Gray guide A's past Royals]

It was important for Gray to gut his way through six and get a lead to the late-inning trio of John Axford, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, who gave up a run in the ninth but notched his third save.

“We needed him to get through that inning,” Melvin said of Gray. “It was a frustrating game for him … You really have to put that aside and be mentally tough to go out there and pitch the way he did.”

The A’s supported Gray with early offense thanks to Josh Reddick’s three-run homer in the first, and they stopped a four-game losing skid. Sunday afternoon’s rubber match sure seems like a ‘swing’ game for the A’s momentum-wise. A win only salvages a 2-4 homestand, but taking two of three from the defending World Series champs would be a nice way to head out on a 10-game road trip that begins Tuesday against the Yankees.

Though there’s still work to accomplish, Melvin placed heavy value on Saturday’s victory.

“It was (a big win),” Melvin said, “especially with our ace on the mound. You never want to say this early in the season that anything is a must-win, but it was a big win for us. We needed to get it to get some confidence back here.”

The fact that Doolittle had a positive day, after allowing homers in each of his two previous outings, had to be good for his confidence. Called upon in relief of Axford with a runner aboard and the A’s leading 5-2 in the eighth, he retired the left-handed hitting Alex Gordon on a fly to right to end that inning.

“It was great to see Doo back out there and get the job done,” Reddick said.

Melvin left things open-ended after the game when asked if he considers Madson his regular closer right now over Doolittle. Doolittle has been used more for matchup-type situations in this series, but Melvin said before the game he thinks the lefty is throwing well despite the homers.

It was a spotty afternoon for the A’s defense, in particular second baseman Jed Lowrie. He was charged with two errors and had a couple other balls hit his way that he couldn’t make the play on. Plays like that contributed to the frustrations for Gray that Melvin referenced, though asked specifically about some of the plays Lowrie was involved in, Melvin added:

“Those were just extended out of his reach.”

Gray’s 114 pitches were the third-most of his career. But he navigated through a tough Royals lineup to give up just one earned run over six innings, managing to play keep-away from his manager in the process.

“I was glad that they gave me the opportunity to go back out there for the sixth,” Gray said. “When you play these guys you're going to be in for a fight. That's what it was today.”

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.”