Gray can't find groove as start mirrors season

'When it's going bad, it seems to really be going bad,' A's righty says

Gray can't find groove as start mirrors season

OAKLAND -- Sonny Gray allowed seven runs in a start for the fourth time this year in Thursday's 7-3 loss to the Rays. Yet again, Gray stood before his locker following a poor start, answering questions about what's gone wrong.

Gray has nine losses and his ERA sits at 5.49 through 18 starts. Despite having what manager Bob Melvin and catcher Stephen Vogt insisted was his best breaking ball of the year, Gray again wavered in the middle innings.

"I feel good," Gray said. "It's been obviously tough mentally, but before tonight I felt like there were quite a few positives in a row, then you take a giant step back. It is tough mentally sometimes, but you just gotta continue to battle through it."

Thursday's start mirrored Gray's season -- a mixture of struggles, a few positives and a splash of bad luck.

The Rays tagged Gray for a run in the first inning and two subsequent solo homers from Tim Beckham and Corey Dickerson in the second and fourth, respectively. In between those two homers, Gray struck out four straight batters, unleashing a formidable slider as his putout pitch.

Gray fans Longoria

Then things completely unraveled in the fifth.

Four straight Rays batters reached to begin the inning, including Logan Forsythe's RBI double that caromed off second base. The fifth batter, Evan Longoria, ran into an out at second base trying to stretch his RBI single. By the time Gray struck Steven Souza out to end the frame, Tampa Bay held a four-run lead.

"When it's going bad, it seems to really be going bad," Gray said.

"He's had a tough time this year. It's the first time he's ever had to go through something like that," Melvin said.

"I still feel like his stuff's good. I still feel confident every time he goes out there. I always think he's going to get out of the bit of a mess that he gets into, because that's been his history. Just this year, up to this point, he's had a tough time."

Melvin said Gray's tinkered some recently. The righty's fastball velocity was a tick slower than usual, which Melvin said was part of the plan, noting Gray entered his start aiming for more movement and control. Gray said his fastball simply did not feel strong coming out of his hand.

His ERA from the fourth inning on this year is 7.95, compared to 3.22 through the first three. Gray's allowed 13 runs (10 earned) in 10 2/3 innings in two starts against the Rays, who entered Thursday with the league's fifth-worst batting average (.241), despite scoring 28 runs in their last three games.

Gray has had a handful of encouraging starts over the last two months, including his previous two in July. Gray spoke of finding his footing and confidence on Saturday against the Blue Jays, winning for the first time in almost three months.

Thursday was another step back, and another unfamiliar outing for Gray, who finished third in American League Cy Young voting last year after posting a 2.73 ERA.

"That game kind of went like my year's been," Gray said.

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.