A's Gray gets OD nod after spring debut

Ace strikes out four in three innings vs. White Sox

A's Gray gets OD nod after spring debut

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Zero doubt preceded the announcement, but manager Bob Melvin had to make it official anyway, naming ace Sonny Gray the A's Opening Day starter a third consecutive year.

"Based on his performance today, let's call Sonny Gray our Opening Day starter," a grinning Melvin said following Gray's three-inning performance in the A's 12-3 win against a White Sox lineup that Gray will greet again in the Opening Day start at the Coliseum on April 4.

"You look up Opening Day starter in the dictionary, and there's a picture of Sonny Gray," Melvin said, "and he's been that way for us since he's gotten here."

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So much so that Melvin hasn't even felt the need to run the news by Gray, who will be the third pitcher in Oakland history to make three consecutive Opening Day starts, joining Dave Stewart (five) and Rick Langford (three).

"I just assume he knows," Melvin said.

Gray, 26, brought a limited repertoire into his first spring start against the White Sox on Wednesday, clearly by design.

"We're going to save some of our stuff for them, but with Sonny, the intensity is always there," catcher Josh Phegley said, "and it's tough for him to tone it back. He wanted to come out aggressive like he normally does and throw strikes, at least get his fastball going in the right direction and build from that, so we threw quite a few of them."

So Gray came out firing, striking out his first two batters, including former teammate Brett Lawrie, who fanned twice in as many at-bats against the right-hander. Gray totaled four strikeouts in his three innings, allowing one run on three consecutive hits to begin the second. He also stranded a pair of runners in the frame.

"Being able to somewhat limit the damage was big," Gray said. "You want to work on getting out of those situations. Mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation."

Gray estimates he threw 35 of his 40-plus pitches for fastballs, flashing just one slider and a handful of curveballs that didn't particularly impress him. He nearly returned to the mound to face one batter in the fourth, but he elected to finish up his work in the bullpen, allowing him the opportunity to fine-tune his curveball while simulating game action.

"It was still pretty solid," Phegley insisted. " It wasn't up to his standards, but it was still pretty good."

Gray finished the 2015 season with a 14-7 record and 2.73 ERA in 31 starts to place third in American League Cy Young Award voting. His workload was one of several reasons the A's decided to again ease him into spring action, as they did last year. By the time Gray took the mound Wednesday, every other A's starter had already done so.

"I was looking forward to this day," Gray said. "This is the first time I've thrown in a game, obviously, but also the first time I've thrown with a defense behind me, first time I've actually had real innings where you have three outs and have to get off the field, so it was good to get out there, and I felt good.

"I threw a lot of fastballs, and I wasn't necessarily locating as good as I would like to, but I still think it had some life on it, and I'm pretty happy with how it went, especially the first time out."

Worth Noting

• Lefty Felix Doubront, who is attempting to pitch his way into the starting rotation, made great strides Wednesday by striking out six of 10 batters faced, impressing with his curveball. Doubront said he was "more focused on keeping the ball down and throwing more breaking balls" after struggling in his Cactus League debut last week.

"The best I've seen as far as his touch with the curveball," Melvin said. "He's pitched really well. I think the conditioning he did in the offseason has really helped him."

• A unique scene unfolded in the eighth inning, when Ryan Doolittle entered the game in relief of his brother, Sean Doolittle, who struck out the side in the seventh.

Mark Canha (back stiffness) went through a series of running drills Wednesday morning, considered the last hurdle before he's cleared for game activity.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.