River Cats pitcher Sonny Gray will never forget that July 9 morning in a hotel room in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"I was sleeping, then Scar came in and woke me up," Gray said. "It was complete shock. It was a good thing to wake up to, that was for sure."
River Cats manager Steve Scarsone told Gray, a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher, what every minor-league player yearns to hear - he was being called up to the majors.
The following day, in his big-league debut with the A's, Gray pitched two scoreless innings in relief, allowing one hit and striking out three, in Oakland's 5-0 loss to the Pirates.
In his second game, on July 19, Gray pitched two more scoreless innings, again allowing one hit and striking out three, in a 4-1 loss to the Angels.
"I went in there fairly confident, trying to make the pitches I've made all year, and I was able to do that," Gray said. "I was in there in some low-pressure situations. It was nice to be able to go there and compete, and know that you can pitch there."
Despite his performance, he was sent back to the River Cats on July 20 so he could pitch more regularly and stay sharp. In his brief time with the A's, he proved to himself - and his Triple-A manager - that he has major-league talent.
"Based on his performance, I would say he handled it very well, which could be a great indicator of what kind of big-league player he's going to be," Scarsone said. "So I think everybody here, as well as the organization, is excited about how he's turned the corner."
Gray's biggest improvement over the past year has been his command of his fastball, Scarsone said.
"This year, I've seen him consistently being able to use the fastball when he wants, where he wants it, for the most part," Scarsone said. "That just makes his off-speed pitches that much more difficult for the hitters to adjust to."
Gray, who is scheduled to start Saturday against Round Rock at Raley Field, struggled in his last outing Monday, giving up nine hits and six earned runs before leaving with two outs in the fifth inning. On the season, he's 9-7 with a 3.38 ERA. In 112 innings, he's allowed 109 hits and 42 earned runs while striking out 115 and walking 37.
"He's young and really good," said catcher Stephen Vogt, who is currently with the A's but has caught Gray with the River Cats. "I can't say enough about the way he's thrown both in the minor leagues and the big leagues this year. He's really close to being ready to be a starter up in the big leagues. He showed he can pitch up there and he's ready to go."
As a youngster, Gray was coached by his father, Jesse, who died in an auto accident when Sonny was 14. Gray went on to play baseball and football at Smyrna High School outside Nashville, Tenn., before attending Vanderbilt on a baseball scholarship. He led the Commodores to their first College World Series in 2011 after going 12-4 with a 2.43 ERA and then was drafted by the A's in the first round.
Gray likely will be called back up to the A's after major-league rosters expand on Sept. 1, joining the bullpen for the stretch run. But cracking the A's quality rotation won't be easy.
"I just got to keep pitching here," Gray said. "Hopefully at some point I can be back in Oakland, whether starting or relieving, and play the season out and end it well."
Call The Bee's Kristopher Rivera, (916) 321-1101 Follow him on Twitter @kgrivera.