A’s pitcher Sonny Gray said he made one significant change to his routine this offseason as his son, Gunnar, neared his first birthday.
“I had to stop carrying him in my right arm because he got too heavy,” the right-hander said. “I had to start using my left arm.”
Gunnar accompanied Gray to a handful of his workouts at his alma mater, Vanderbilt, where Gray focused on building up core strength and stamina entering his third full major-league season, during which he’s expected to be a stabilizing presence in an A’s rotation with plenty of question marks.
Last season was Gray’s most decorated as a big-leaguer, as he placed third in American League Cy Young Award voting after going 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA. Those numbers, though, masked a bit of a late-season dip that has not been uncharacteristic for the 26-year-old. Gray’s career regular-season ERA in September and October is 4.11, his highest of any month.
Hip discomfort contributed to Gray’s late struggles last year and prevented him from making his final start. So Gray said that was the focus of the offseason workout plan he formed with A’s strength and conditioning coach Mike Henriques – less heavy lifting and more workouts designed to strengthen and stabilize his core muscles.
The end goal, Gray said, is simply to stay healthy over an entire season. He has quietly been one of the league’s best starters since breaking into the majors in 2013, compiling a 33-20 record and 2.88 ERA in 76 starts. Gray recorded a career-low WHIP last season of 1.08 and ranked among the top three A.L. starters in ERA and opponents’ batting average (.217).
“That’s the goal, obviously, is just to be able to go the whole 162 games,” Gray said. “If I can just stay healthy the whole year and make 33, 34 starts … I think all the other wins, losses, all the other statistics, they’ll play out the way they’re supposed to.”
Gray’s contributions may mean even more this season to the A’s, who are lining up a largely unproven starting rotation behind him. Veteran left-hander Rich Hill, who last started for a full season in the majors in 2009, is expected to be the No. 2 starter. Other candidates to round out the rotation include Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin and Chris Bassitt.
Gray’s tenure and past performance make him the de facto leader of the rotation, though he said of taking on a leadership role in the clubhouse: “We’ll see how that plays out. … This’ll be my fourth year here, so I’ve definitely been around here a little bit longer. So we’ll see.”
Clubhouse dynamic has been cited as one negative aspect of last year’s A’s team, which lost 94 games to finish with the A.L.’s worst record and missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. Gray said the A’s this year must do a better job of recognizing and stopping losing streaks before they start to snowball.
“We would lose five, six (games) in a row, we’d go 1-10 or something, and that can have some draining effects, individually, on everyone,” Gray said. “I think it’s going to help us a little bit this year, honestly. … Some of the guys that have been around, you can kind of feel the direction these last two games have gone and do something to stop it.”
Oakland made several notable roster changes this winter, including restocking its bullpen and reacquiring infielder Jed Lowrie, who was a member of A’s playoff teams in 2013 and 2014. There was also some thought about a reunion with starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, whom the A’s dealt at last year’s trade deadline and who became a free agent after the season.
Gray, who was close with Kazmir while teammates in Oakland, said he lobbied for the left-hander to re-sign with the A’s and that, “A couple times I thought, ‘Maybe he will.’ ” Kazmir, though, ultimately agreed to a three-year, $48 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Still, Gray said he’s optimistic about the A’s rotation entering spring training.
“We’re still going to have a whole lot of depth and a lot of talent,” Gray said. “However that shakes out and plays out, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
- Location: Hohokam Stadium, Mesa, Ariz.
- Reporting dates: First practice, pitchers and catchers, Feb. 21, position players, Feb. 26
- First game: March 3, at Angels (Tempe, Ariz.), 12:10 p.m.
- Opening Day: April 4, vs. Chicago White Sox, 7:05 p.m.
- Location: Scottsdale (Ariz.) Stadium
- Reporting dates: First practice, pitchers and catchers, Feb. 18, position players, Feb. 23
- First game: March 2, vs. Angels, 12:05 p.m.
- Opening Day: April 4, at Milwaukee, 11:10 a.m.
- Home opener: April 7, vs. L.A. Dodgers, 1:35 p.m.