A's starter searching for answers on late-game command issues
By Mark Chiarelli
OAKLAND -- Sonny Gray's troublesome season took another surprising turn Wednesday night when the right-hander gave up a five-run lead in the sixth inning of an eventual 7-5 loss to the Rangers.
Gray took a 5-0 lead into the inning only to see it evaporate in 20 pitches. Robinson Chirinos opened the frame with a homer, Shin-Soo Choo and Ian Desmond followed with doubles, and Rougned Odor capped the outburst with a two-run homer three batters later to tie the game.
Gray has now allowed five runs or more in five starts this season. He's 3-6 with a 5.54 ERA, and opponents are hitting .348 against him from the fourth inning on.
"It was pretty shocking, actually. I've seen him take the stuff that he had tonight and throw shutouts with it," manager Bob Melvin said.
"It's something I'm going to have to figure out a little bit, moving forward, figure out a way to combat this thing late in the game," Gray said. "I felt really good and other than that sixth inning -- every single ball they hit was hit pretty hard. I'm just going to have to start mixing my pitches a little better later in the game and hopefully that will be something that will help me in the long run."
He initially looked like the pitcher the A's are accustomed to seeing, pounding the strike zone with fastballs and keeping Texas off balance in the first five innings. But his command went wayward in the sixth and his start quickly followed.
Gray said he watched video of the sixth inning and said "every single [pitch] was at the top of the strike zone." It was a jarring contrast from his first five scoreless innings, where he scattered three hits. The right-hander said he simply stopped driving the ball down into the bottom of the strike zone.
"I don't know why that happens," he said.
Catcher Josh Phegley said he didn't see a difference in Gray's stuff in the sixth, noting the Rangers became more aggressive at the plate, especially after Chirinos' first homer.
It was almost an unstoppable thing that we couldn't figure out," he said.
Wednesday was Gray's third start since coming off the DL with a right trapezius strain. He said he used that DL time to both recuperate and refine his mechanics, and the early return was promising, as he went 0-1 with a 2.13 ERA in two starts. Melvin said up until the sixth, Gray's stuff was "as good as we've seen all year."
Gray was headed toward delivering a quality start to a staff in need of a boost. A's starting pitchers were unable to pitch into the fifth inning three straight days prior to Wednesday's game, and are 11-26 dating back to April 23.
Instead, Gray will continue to search for answers as he tries to figure out his late-inning struggles.
"It's an adjustment I'm going to have to make. It's unfortunate it happened tonight. Six innings and five runs later, the game's tied. I don't think anyone saw that coming," he said.
Mark Chiarelli is a reporter for MLB.com based in Oakland. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.