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: Healy moves into three spot, LaMarre gets first start

A's lineup: Healy moves into three spot, LaMarre gets first start

Bob Melvin has issued his lineup as the A's try to snap a five-game losing streak in Game 2 of a series against the Astros.

Oakland A's (10-13)

1. Jaff Decker (L) RF
2. Jed Lowrie (S) 2B
3. Ryon Healy (R) DH
4. Khris Davis (R) LF
5. Yonder Alonso (L) 1B
6. Trevor Plouffe (R) 3B
7. Stephen Vogt (L) C
8. Chad Pinder (R) SS
9. Ryan LaMarre (R) CF
Andrew Triggs -- RHP 


Houston Astros (15-8)

1. George Springer (R) CF
2. Josh Reddick (L) RF
3. Jose Altuve (R) 2B
4. Carlos Correa (R) SS
5. Carlos Beltran (S) LF
6. Yuli Gurriel (R) 1B
7. Brian McCann (L) C
8. Evan Gattis (R) DH
9. Alex Bregman (R) 3B
Joe Musgrove -- RHP

Reddick gets best of old roommate Healy, and the A's

Reddick gets best of old roommate Healy, and the A's

HOUSTON — Enduring a five-game losing streak is tough enough on its own.

Watching a former teammate play a part in prolonging the misery is worse.

Josh Reddick wasn’t the most dominant player on the field Friday for the Astros, but he picked his spots to make his presence felt, and that added a little salt to the wound for the A’s in a 9-4 defeat that was their fifth in a row. They’ve now lost 10 straight times to Houston.

Reddick was mad at himself after not making the play on Ryon Healy’s double in the sixth inning. He got another chance in the eighth and robbed his former roommate with a terrific catch as he slammed into the wall to end the inning. That stranded two runners and preserved what was a 7-4 lead at the time.

“Any time you’re playing against your former team you wanna do well against them. Beating them makes it a little bit sweeter,” Reddick said. “But when you can make a catch against a guy you became pretty good buddies with in a tight situation, it adds more to that.”

After Healy got his first big league call-up last July, and before the A’s traded Reddick to the Dodgers on Aug. 1, Reddick invited the rookie to move into his house as he cut his teeth in the bigs.

“I’m going to be giving Ryon a lot of crap, I guess you could say,” Reddick said afterward. “He gave me a little signal and finger wave and shook his head on the (double). I got him back and a little bit of payback.”

Reddick, who signed a four-year $52 million free agent deal with Houston in the offseason, was a pest to the A’s in more unconventional ways too. Twice he reached base on catcher’s interference calls when his bat hit the mitt of Stephen Vogt, another of Reddick’s closest friends on the A’s. It happened in the bottom of the first and contributed to the Astros’ three-run rally that tied the game off Jharel Cotton after the A’s had grabbed a 3-0 lead on Khris Davis’ three-run homer.

Vogt talked about both interference plays with mild disgust, more upset with the situation itself than Reddick personally.

“Typically I’m pretty far back behind the batter," Vogt said. “Reddick, I guess, has a pretty long swing when he’s trying to go the other way. … It’s just one of those freak things that obviously I’m not real thrilled about. It’s just frustrating. You don’t see it very often. It’s not really how you swing the bat typically, but he does a good job going the other way, and it’s on me. I’ve gotta make sure I’m far enough back and not reaching for the ball.”

As for Reddick’s important catch in the eighth, Vogt said:

“It’s hard to see him in a different uniform, and I know he loved it here as well. It’s hard to see him playing against us 19 times. To see him making catches like that, it’s not very much fun when he’s not wearing green.”

However, the A’s have more pressing issues than getting stung by old friends. They’ve struck out 57 times over the past five games, and with each day that passes, it’s increasingly clear how much they miss the speed and playmaking ability of center fielder Rajai Davis, as well as the offensive production of shortstop Marcus Semien. Both are on the disabled list, Davis for the short term with a strained hamstring and Semien likely for a couple of months due to wrist surgery.

Cotton wasn’t sharp, allowing a career-high 10 hits and failing to protect two early leads he was given. Those are the growing pains that will come for a rookie pitcher. What the A’s can’t afford are three-error nights like they had Friday and continuing to whiff at their current rate.

“When we went through our winning streak, we played real clean games, and now we’re a little shoddy,” manager Bob Melvin said. “There’s a psychological play that goes with that. When you’re not making plays and giving extra outs, it makes it tougher on pitchers and tougher mentally.”