Gray digs deep to finish solid six innings

OAKLAND -- Sonny Gray's downfall in his previous start against the Rangers was the sixth inning, surrendering five runs after cruising through his first five innings. The A's ace avoided heading in that direction again on Tuesday night in a 5-3 win over the Brewers.

Ryan Braun led off the sixth with a single. He advanced to third two batters later, the beneficiary of a costly throwing error by Gray on a pickoff attempt that went wide of Yonder Alonso at first base. Braun took two bases as the ball found the spacious foul territory at the Coliseum, and scored on a Chris Carter RBI single, giving Milwaukee a 2-1 lead.

Braun races from first to third

Against Texas, Gray's night spiraled over the course of just 20 pitches and two homers. But he responded Tuesday by getting Aaron Hill to fly out to right field and Kirk Nieuwenhuis to ground out to Marcus Semien on a fastball, ending the sixth inning.

It was an encouraging sign for the righty, who said his pure stuff has been strong, and he's incrementally improving over each outing.

"No doubt," Gray said. "Even in my last start against the Rangers, it was five of the best innings I've thrown all year, and then I gave up the two homers in the sixth. You walk away from it, and the numbers from that start don't look good, but if you watch the start, stuff-wise, out there, it was a really good start. Tonight, too. I felt great again."

The A's had tied the game, 1-1, in the fifth on a Stephen Vogt RBI groundout. Gray's sixth wasn't the shutdown inning the ace surely hoped for, and he allowed at least one baserunner in four of his six innings.

But the 26-year-old also tied his season high in strikeouts with seven, including pitching around two baserunners in the second inning by striking out the side, and the Brewers rarely registered sharp contact. He's now 0-1 with a 3.28 ERA in four starts since coming off the disabled list with a trapezius strain and looks more like the front-line starter he's been in the past.

"I think we all knew he would get back to form after a couple starts coming back from the injury. It's nice to see that he's there," Vogt said.

"It's pretty similar to the way he's pitched the last couple times out. Good command of his fastball, late movement, real good breaking ball early on," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He's starting to get himself in a nice rhythm."

Gray has a league-high 11 wild pitches, but walked only one on Tuesday, and he has walked just one batter in each of his four starts. His velocity has remained consistent -- he sat at 93 to 94 mph for most of the night -- and he feels like his numbers will soon validate his improvement.

"Now I just have to figure out a way to get a little deeper into the game," Gray said. "Hopefully that will come my next outing."

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.