MINNEAPOLIS -- At this time last year, Sonny Gray was preparing for his first All-Star experience. Now, the A's right-hander is simply prepping to put forth a second half that will dwarf the concerning chatter surrounding his first.
Gray, who finished third in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2015, will ride into the break with more losses (eight) than he had all of last season (seven) and a 5.16 ERA that hardly reflects his ability. He has just three wins this year and none since April 22.
He displayed a gritty performance that took him through six innings at Target Field, with only one run allowed in a 4-0 loss to Ervin Santana and the Twins.
That Gray even got through five was hardly guaranteed, though, after he finished the third at 76 pitches. Throughout, he flashed a better mix of pitches than he's had in recent starts, only to watch the Twins foul a bevy of them off. By the time the fourth inning ended, he had already stranded seven runners, and when he was asked to leave another in the fifth, following Joe Mauer's RBI double, he promptly responded.
"They scored the run off him, and it looked like he was dwelling on some of the negative pitches that he made, and he needs to dwell on all of the positive pitches that he made," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "I went out there and talked to him during the inning and said, 'Look, I need a couple more outs from you.' He did, he got them and then he came in the dugout and said, 'I'm going back out.'
"I think right around that time, you could see a guy that's really confident, and that's what we're used to seeing, and that's what I expect to see in the second half."
Gray, who didn't let Mauer advance past second base with no outs in the fifth, had already thrown 104 pitches by the end of the inning. But his insistence on returning for another frame proved telling, and he worked his way through the sixth on just nine pitches for a total of 113, one shy of his season high.
"He changed his demeanor, that was for sure," A's catcher Stephen Vogt said. "You could see that he wasn't happy, obviously, with the way that turned out. Then he stranded Mauer at second. He wanted the ball, he wanted to keep going.
"He's shown signs of it all year. It's not like he's been awful all year, it's just kind of been the big inning that's gotten him, so I think that was kind of the turning point for him today, in my opinion. He could've let that inning get away from him, but he beared down and didn't let Mauer get to third for an easy run."
So many times this season, Gray has let those innings escape him, noting, "Mentally, today I was just trying to stay aggressive."
"I think he found a little of his mojo today," Melvin said. "He wanted to go back out, and I was prepared to take him out. There have been times in the past where he would not let me take him out of the game, so he told me, 'I feel great.'
"It was a tough first half for him, but if he takes the attitude he had today in the second half, and I told him this, he's going to have a heck of a second half."
Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.