Gray returns to ace form, but A's can't back him

Right-hander flirts with no-hitter; allows two runs over 7 2/3

Gray returns to ace form, but A's can't back him

CINCINNATI -- Sonny Gray's first six innings against the Reds on Friday were nothing short of spectacular. He started out by retiring 15 of the first 16 batters he faced, walking just one man on his way to 5 1/3 no-hit innings.

Even after Tucker Barnhart spoiled that with a one-out single, Gray got right back on track and retired his next two batters.

But after all of that dominance, things fell apart in the seventh. Brandon Phillips delivered a one-out single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Adam Duvall brought him home with a double and then scored on another wild pitch two batters later. Those two runs sealed Gray's fate, giving him the 2-1 loss.

"[The seventh was] very tough," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He was still throwing the ball good, still effectively. Pitch count was low. He pitched a great game. Those type of games, usually you win."

Some of what happened in the seventh can be pegged on tough luck, though. Duvall's double just skipped under the glove of Danny Valencia at third base and tucked itself in the left-field corner. The next at-bat, Eugenio Suarez got an infield single in the hole at the edge of shortstop Marcus Semien's range. Had Semien played one step deeper into the hole, it could've produced the third out of the inning, keeping the game tied at one.

But that seems to be how things are going for the A's recently, who registered their sixth straight loss on Friday night.

"That's the game, though. That's how it goes. Every single day, it's always a couple pitches here and there," Gray said. "You look at that inning, that's just kind of how this road trip's been thus far."

The two wild pitches, though, were much bigger problems. And that's just part of Gray's game. The two in the seventh were already his 10th and 11th of the season, and he has a combined 28 over the last two seasons. Wild pitches are a result of Gray's style, with a hard-biting sinker that often catches the dirt.

"I've got to catch those balls," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "Sonny has late life on his fastball, and nobody knows that better than me, and I've got to do a better job. Those pitches can't get by me."

If there's a silver lining to the A's recent struggles, it's that they seem to have their ace back. Gray started the season with a 6.19 ERA before going on the disabled list with a strained right trapezius. In his two starts since his return, he's pitched 12 2/3 innings and has a 2.13 ERA, striking out nine and walking two.

"We have our guy back, and he's pitching well. That part is good," Melvin said. "The other parts, where we're not winning baseball games right now, is very frustrating."

Cody Pace is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.