OAKLAND A's right-hander Sonny Gray's performance in Game 2 of the American League Division Series drew rave reviews from the team he shut out for eight innings.
Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland described Gray as "real aggressive with electric stuff," while opposing starter Justin Verlander said the 23-year-old "handled himself like a veteran."
Turns out the Tigers weren't the only ones who came away impressed.
Wednesday, A's manager Bob Melvin announced Gray will start Game 5 of the ALDS tonight, opting to go with the rookie who made 20 starts (10-7) for the River Cats this season in a winner-take-all scenario over veteran and 18-game winner Bartolo Colon.
Melvin said the decision hinged mainly on Gray's outing in Game 2, when he went toe-to-toe with Verlander and showed poise while pitching in the high-pressure game in front of the A's raucous home crowd conditions that figure to be duplicated tonight.
"He's a bit of a bulldog and he's scared of nothing," Melvin said on a conference call. "He right away established what he wanted to do in that game."
Colon started Game 1 and allowed three runs in the first inning before holding the Tigers scoreless over the next five. Melvin, though, said Colon "has done nothing to warrant not pitching in this game," and dismissed the idea the A's want to save Colon for a potential Game 1 of the A.L. Championship Series in Boston, should they advance.
"This is a win-or-go-home game, and we're trying to do the best we can," Melvin said. "If we feel there's an incremental edge with one guy over another, that's what we're going to have to do."
Gray has pitched much better in his seven starts at O.co Coliseum this season, recording a 1.66 ERA in 48 2/3 innings including his outing Saturday. It was the first time Gray had faced Detroit, and he'll go into Game 5 without the slight edge that unfamiliarity normally grants to the pitcher over the opposing lineup.
"It does make some difference," Leyland said Wednesday. "With the stuff he was featuring, it certainly does not mean we're going to be in a comfort zone. But it makes you a little more comfortable, now that you know the action on the ball, the great breaking ball he has."
Experience hasn't helped the A's lineup figure out Verlander, whom Gray will again oppose tonight. It's the second year in a row Verlander will have faced the A's at the Coliseum in a do-or-die ALDS game. Last year, Verlander threw a complete-game shutout in Game 5, and he currently owns a 22-inning scoreless streak against the A's in postseason play.
That includes seven shutout innings in Game 2, which the A's won 1-0 on a walk-off hit by Stephen Vogt in the ninth, though the A's left runners in scoring position in multiple innings against Verlander, who threw 117 pitches.
"The easiest way to get to a guy like Verlander (is) give yourself as many opportunities to score as possible," A's shortstop Jed Lowrie said. "Get guys on base and get him to throw those stress innings and pitches where he's not able to cruise through innings."
Melvin said the only lineup change he might consider is starting Alberto Callaspo at second base over Eric Sogard, who is 0 for 9 in the series. But he reiterated he likes having the switch-hitting Callaspo on the bench to deploy in late-game situations.
Leyland, meanwhile, said he hadn't set his lineup for tonight's game but does expect to start Jhonny Peralta, who did not play in Game 2 and thus did not face Gray. Peralta has driven in five runs in the past two games, including a three-run homer off Dan Straily in Game 4.
As for whether Colon will be available in relief tonight, a la Max Scherzer in Game 4, Melvin didn't rule it out but said such an appearance may be complicated by Colon's unique routine between starts. Melvin did say that Colon is "open for everything," and said the rest of the A's pitchers will be "all hands on deck."
Melvin said it was difficult to break the news to Colon, who had the league's second-lowest ERA during the season while anchoring the A's rotation, but that Colon "made it easy on me."
"He could have had a gripe, and I would not have been surprised if he did," Melvin said. "He made it easy on me and said, 'I just want to win.' "
Note Melvin said Jarrod Parker's availability for a possible relief appearance will be decided today. Parker left Game 3 after five innings and 73 pitches with some soreness, Melvin said, and the A's "don't want him going out there when he's not close to 100 percent."
Melvin also said Straily pitched the final three innings of his Game 4 start with back tightness, part of the reason Straily departed after 76 pitches.
Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015, and read his online reports at blogs.sacbee.com/ bay-area-baseball.