MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Gray lives up to lofty expectations

Oakland's ace dominates LA, affirms his premier status

Gray lives up to lofty expectations

LOS ANGELES -- There you go, Mr. Kershaw. See if you can top that.

Sonny Gray never would say such a thing. He's too much the Southern gentleman, too respectful of others, especially his elders. But Gray's actions spoke volumes on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium, where the locals have grown accustomed to brilliant pitching.

There was one shade of Gray -- dominant -- and it was breathtaking. Sonny gave the master, Clayton Kershaw, something worth matching with an overpowering performance against the Dodgers in the Athletics' 2-0 victory.

Kershaw, working on a scoreless-innings streak of 29, faces Jesse Chavez on Wednesday night in the finale of the two-game Interleague series.

Gray retired 11 in a row before yielding a double to Adrian Gonzalez with two outs in the fourth. Howie Kendrick slammed singles in the seventh and ninth innings, and Andre Ethier walked in the fifth.

It was all the activity the Dodgers could generate against the 5-foot-11 right-hander from Vanderbilt University. Gray struck out nine.

Softly, Gray talked about "the great defense behind me" and how the key was "throwing strikes, being able to execute the fastball to both sides of the plate." He was happy with his slider, too.

The big thing, Gray emphasized, was that his team needed a lift after learning that Ben Zobrist had been dealt earlier in the day to the Royals. It was the third swap in six days of premium A's talent for prospects.

A's manager Bob Melvin called it a "cloudy day" in cloudless L.A. Sonny brought the sunshine into Oakland's world, as he always seems to do.

Somebody in his native Nashville, Tenn., might be writing a song about this Sonny someday.

"We expect to win every day," said A's cleanup man Billy Butler. "But when Sonny's out there, it's a different level. He did everything tonight."

Gray's effort was straight out of the file of Zack Greinke, the second of the Dodgers' matchless pair of aces. Hitless in his first four big league at-bats, Gray lashed an opposite-field single leading off the seventh against Pedro Baez, on in relief of ex-A's pitcher Brett Anderson.

Turns out Gray hadn't taken any batting practice and didn't have the bat Oakland's pitchers use. Scott Kazmir took it with him when he was dispatched Thursday to his hometown Astros in the first of three trades that left the A's down, if not out.

Following the lefty out the clubhouse door were closer Tyler Clippard, dealt to the Mets, and versatile Zobrist. The Athletics acquired four pitchers and a catcher in the deals, all with fine credentials.

Oakland can only hope it gets as lucky as it did when Gray was sent its way.

"He told me to pick him out a winner," Butler said of the bat Gray used for his first Major League hit. "And I gave him one. It's 32 ounces, top-heavy. He doesn't swing too many bats, so I can understand why he thought it was heavy."

What Butler doesn't understand is why Gray was even available when the 18th overall pick in the first round of the 2011 Draft fell to the A's.

Nine pitchers had been taken ahead of Gray. Six of the nine, including No. 1 pick Gerrit Cole by the Pirates, have pitched in the Majors. Trevor Bauer, taken third overall by the D-backs, is finding himself with the Indians. Jose Fernandez, selected 14th by the Marlins, has superstar written all over his formidable frame.

"The Draft is so predicated on being a certain size," Butler said. "A lot of it is projectability; they like guys who are 6-4, 6-5. If you look at his numbers, he should have been right up there. I see Sonny Gray on the mound, with that will and that stuff mixed in, and that's what you want -- on any staff."

An All-Star for the first time in his third season, Gray, 25, figures to be part of the Midsummer Classic on a regular basis.

If you judge by ERA and WHIP (walks and hits per inning), Gray is the best of that impressive 2011 Draft group by a sliver over Cole and Fernandez, who is rebounding from Tommy John surgery.

A case can be made that Gray is the premier pitcher at the moment in the American League. He is 11-4 with a team that is 11 games under .500. Gray's ERA of 2.16 is the best in the AL, ahead of Kazmir's 2.24. Cole also checks in at 2.24, third in the National League.

Gray has a 0.97 WHIP, the best in the league. Greinke and Nationals ace Max Scherzer are the leaders at 0.83.

All of those numbers, and Sonny Gray, by all accounts, is a great teammate.

"He's a real happy-go-lucky guy," Melvin said. "And it's contagious."

Lyle Spencer is a national reporter and columnist for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.