OAKLAND -- In his first two full seasons in the majors, A’s right-hander Sonny Gray was often at his best early in the year. In 22 starts made between Opening Day and May 31, he owned an 11-3 record and a 2.07 ERA.
This year, Gray is off to a much slower start. Through six outings, he’s 3-3 with a 4.84 ERA, and he followed up the shortest start of his career last week in Detroit by equaling his career highs in runs allowed (seven) and hits (11) in the A’s 8-2 loss to the Mariners on Tuesday night at the Coliseum.
The A’s shuffled their rotation over the weekend, giving Gray an extra day of rest after he allowed four runs in a two-inning start last Wednesday in Detroit. After Tuesday’s loss, he was asked whether he feels less sharp on the mound right now than at this time in seasons past.
"No, I don’t think so," Gray said. "My other starts (this season), I was a little sporadic with location, and I was not throwing enough strikes. And tonight I felt great. I didn’t feel any different than I’ve felt (at this point) either of the previous two years. It’s just not really going my way."
In fact, Gray said, he said Tuesday night was "definitely the best I’ve felt all year." He fell behind early by allowing a pair of home runs -- a two-run shot by Leonys Martin and solo home run by Robinson Cano -- but was still pitching in the eighth inning when an A’s defensive miscue helped turn the game into a runaway and Gray’s line into a mess.
"I threw more strikes and attacked guys more," Gray said. "It’s weird when you pitch into the eighth inning and you walk away and come out with a really bad start. It was just a really weird game tonight."
The A’s offense didn’t help Gray by failing to capitalize early against a shaky-looking Hisashi Iwakuma. But Gray acknowledged he hung a curveball to Seattle’s No. 9 hitter, Martin, which resulted in the game’s first runs in the third. And he said he also left a pitch up to Cano in the fourth that Cano drove the other way over the wall in left-center.
"I thought his stuff was really good at times," manager Bob Melvin said. "Really the one bad pitch was probably the one to Martin, and then Cano hits a pretty good pitch out to left. But up until that point I thought he was back on track with his stuff, the movement, down in the zone."
Melvin also pointed to Gray’s ball-to-strike ratio -- he threw 69 of 93 pitches for strikes -- as an indication that Gray may be coming out of his early struggles.
"I think he wasn’t trying to be too fine," catcher Josh Phegley said. ‘He was just trying to throw strikes and he was throwing all his pitches for strikes. Everything had the normal action it was supposed to have on it.
"I know he’s been scuffling, but I think he found his stuff tonight. I don’t know if he’s trusting it quite as much as he should. But he looked like he had his normal stuff and I think that’s a good starting point for him to get back on track."
That Gray should need to right things at this point in the season is unusual. Still, his line Tuesday was not so gaudy until he came out to start the eighth. Cano doubled in the gap, Nelson Cruz singled to move Cano to third, and Adam Lind hit a pop-up to shallow left field that dropped between left fielder Khris Davis, shortstop Marcus Semien and third baseman Chris Coghlan for an RBI single.
"That was my fault," Davis said. "That’s definitely my play coming in with a runner on third, and I checked Marcus too late and kind of lost sight of him. But yeah, it was a hesitation on my part, and it was completely all mine."
It was Gray’s final hitter, and Marc Rzepczynski came in and allowed a three-run homer to Kyle Seager, accounting for the last of Gray’s seven runs.
"I thought I threw the ball well," Gray said. "And it was just really unfortunate the way it turned out."