Gray looking to bounce back from tough '16

Gray looking to bounce back from tough '16

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's A's squad each day this week. Today's topic: How's your star?

OAKLAND -- Right-hander Sonny Gray's ability to bounce back from a woeful 2016 campaign will be paramount to the A's try at a turnaround following a third consecutive losing season.

Gray was hardly recognizable last year, his fourth season in the big leagues marred by injuries and poor performances -- a common theme amongst an A's rotation that struggled to field a starting five most weeks.

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That they couldn't even count on their ace during these times, instead leaning heavily on surprise performer Kendall Graveman, proved frustrating for all involved, and the 27-year-old Gray, eager to put the past away, is ready to be the guy they rely on again.

Oakland's success will largely depend on its mostly young starting staff.

"I remember '13, '14 and '15, every time I went out there on the mound, everyone in the dugout expected me to win, and that's really all I can ask out of myself, is just that expectation of when it's my turn, we expect to win," Gray said. "That's something that, if I can go out there with that mindset, everyone else can, too."

Gray's solid start

Gray was scratched from his Opening Day start last year because of food poisoning, a disappointing turn of events that only foreshadowed a season full of setbacks, including a pair of disabled list stints. Gray suffered a trapezius strain in May and a forearm strain in August, never finding his form and finishing 5-11 with a 5.69 ERA.

Last month, he hinted that his physical issues emerged as early as Spring Training and added that they could have hindered his mechanics along the way.

"Every time there's injuries, you don't really know," Gray said. "A lot of times when you're having issues and you're not feeling healthy, that's when you start changing mechanics to overcompensate for how you're feeling, and when you start doing that, that's when things can snowball."

Gray proved he was healthy going into the offseason by throwing one inning in a start in Anaheim on Sept. 28, a short but encouraging outing that was something of a relief to many in the organization.

Just one year prior, Gray had finished third in American League Cy Young Award voting.

"When last season was over and I got fully healthy, it's one of those things you don't want to turn back and look at anymore," Gray said. "Once you take time to reflect and take what was good out of it, there's no need to dwell on the injuries and the performance. You try to turn the page, and you move on, and you put all of your focus and preparation into this season."

Gray has been working with a personal trainer for the first time this offseason and said his lower half feels stronger, helping him simplify his mechanics with less movement.

Batterymate Stephen Vogt recently deemed him "a top-five pitcher in baseball," and manager Bob Melvin said, "My expectations are always that he's one of the premier pitchers in the game."

"Everybody's going to go through a down season if you're around long enough," Melvin continued. "I think it just kind of snowballed in the wrong direction for him last year, starting with Opening Day, getting sick that day, which affected his schedule, then he had a couple injuries.

"It was just a very tough year for him, but I think the really good ones take that and learn from it. The talent level is still there, the intensity of what he does and the expectations he has on himself are there, too, so I know he's looking forward to bouncing back and being the ace of the team."

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.