Inability to finish off hitters plaguing Gray

Inability to finish off hitters plaguing Gray

OAKLAND -- Sonny Gray was one batter away from potentially salvaging Friday's start against the Pirates. Instead, a lapse of control proved costly, leading to a three-run Pittsburgh sixth and an eventual 7-3 Pirates win.

Gray allowed all seven runs over six innings, marking the third time this season he's allowed seven earned runs in a game. Prior to the season, he had done so only twice in his career.

"This hasn't been his best year," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He'll figure it out. He'll get better as the year goes along. But there's always going to be a year that's not as good as other years. And so far this is the one for him. He's been really good for us."

For two innings, Gray was really good, retiring the first six Pirates batters with ease while the A's staked him to a 3-0 lead. The first warning sign of dissipating control came in the third, when Jordy Mercer roped an elevated Gray fastball over the wall in left for a solo homer. An inning later, Gray unleashed a wild pitch to the Coliseum backstop, allowing Andrew McCutchen to score, slicing the lead to 3-2.

It only got worse from there.

Pittsburgh strung together three straight singles to score two more in the fifth. Gray hit Starling Marte with two outs and no runners on in the sixth, followed with a wild pitch to David Freese before issuing him a walk, and then saw Matt Joyce hit an RBI single and Josh Harrison follow with a two-run double.

"I have to be able to shut that inning down and get back out there for the seventh," Gray said. "I hit a batter, walked a guy, and it just kind of escalated from there."

Gray's now unleashed a league-high 13 wild pitches, which equals his total from all of 2015 and is two shy of his career high of 15 set in 2014. Neither Gray or Melvin were worried about the miscues, saying it's a byproduct of his reliance on pitching low in the zone, with Melvin noting Gray often buries his curveball in the dirt as a strikeout pitch.

Melvin believed Gray actually began to leave pitches up in the strike zone which created more contact as Friday's game progressed, but Gray wasn't so sure.

"I don't think I was missing up as much as I was just missing my spots, I guess," he said.

Regardless, he's now 3-7 with a 5.42 ERA and winless in his last 11 starts.

"A lot of times, if you're pitching in close games, you might not get the win either way," Melvin said. "It's about keeping your team in the game now with pitch counts and so forth."

Gray entered Friday's start on an apparent upswing, posting a 3.23 ERA in five starts after coming off the disabled list June 5. He had allowed two runs or fewer in every start but one -- a June 15 start against Texas in which he gave up five runs in the sixth inning off a pair of homers after carrying a shutout into the frame.

It's those big innings -- and his inability to finish batters off -- that's frustrated Gray this season.

"Once I got to two outs after that I just wasn't able to get them out," Gray said. "It's something I have to be better at. Once I get to two outs I have to be able to shut the inning down."

Mark Chiarelli is a reporter for MLB.com based in the Bay Area. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.