Oakland A's

A’s Sonny Gray excited by his feeling in spring debut

Oakland Athletics' Sonny Gray makes a play during spring training baseball practice Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, in Mesa, Ariz.
Oakland Athletics' Sonny Gray makes a play during spring training baseball practice Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, in Mesa, Ariz. AP

-- A’s right-hander Sonny Gray was grinning like a kid after making his Cactus League debut on Tuesday -- the residual effects, maybe, of finally pitching in a game again after a long winter.

"I was excited, there’s no doubt about it," Gray said. "I think that’s why I threw a little simulated game last week, because (manager Bob Melvin) and (pitching coach) Curt (Young) know I get really excited out there.

"I gotta learn how to slow down again and execute pitches instead of being a crazy bull or whatever out there, trying to just throw the ball hard."

Gray didn’t fare that badly in his first spring start in the A’s 6-5 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, allowing two runs on five hits in 2 1/3 innings. He allowed a second-inning home run to Yasmany Tomas and followed by giving up a double to Cody Ross, who scored on a single by Oscar Hernandez.

Gray said afterward he was quick with his delivery at times and got himself into some bad counts, but sounded pleased with his outing overall.

"I felt better coming out of that game than I have in my first spring training outing in three years," Gray said. "I feel great body-wise and overall, so that’s a huge positive."

Gray said he was commanding his four-seam fastball well in the first inning and decided to throw more sinkers to begin the second. He had trouble controlling the sinker, though, and wound up behind in the count to both Tomas and Ross. Both hitters jumped on fastballs that Gray threw to get back in the count.

"Next time I’m probably going to need to take a deep breath, slow down and focus on making a few more pitches," he said.

Gray was throwing to catcher Josh Phegley for only the second time this spring, and said the two will continue to work on their chemistry. He said his best execution came in two at-bats facing Arizona No. 3 hitter Mark Trumbo, whom he struck out swinging in the first inning and again in the third for his final batter.

"He was amped up, you could tell," Melvin said. "His stuff was really good. Command, maybe not the best that we’re used to seeing, but for me some crisp curveballs, actually threw some sliders, good life on his fastball, so all good."

Melvin said he isn’t worried about Gray’s command at this point.

"He gets pretty excited that first time out there," he said. "It was more just about seeing the action of his pitches, and all of them were good for me."

* Maybe the best news for the A’s on Tuesday came from off the field. An MRI on Coco Crisp’s right arm showed no structural problems, Melvin said, a day after Crisp had an X-ray that was inconclusive. Crisp left Sunday’s game with soreness in his right elbow and has been diagnosed with a lower triceps strain.

"It’s going to be a few days," Melvin said, "but nothing in there that we’re structurally worried about."

The A’s are already down one outfielder with Josh Reddick sidelined by an oblique strain -- Reddick is not doing any activity for at least another week and a half. Melvin said the A’s are holding out hope Reddick could be back by opening day, but right now that looks unlikely.

Originally, it was thought Reddick might only miss a few days. For that reason, Melvin said, when the A’s had to send Crisp for the extra test, "I was holding my breath."

In other injury news, right-hander Jarrod Parker will face hitters in live batting practice on Friday for the first time since having Tommy John surgery last spring. Parker threw a bullpen session Tuesday.

* Barry Zito made his second spring appearance and allowed two runs on three hits in 2 2/3 innings. Zito entered in the fourth against the Diamondbacks and looked sharp for the first two innings, starting with four consecutive groundouts before Nick Buss grounded a weak single into right field. Zito then struck out Aaron Hill and retired Mark Trumbo on a foul ball down the left-field line.

In the sixth, though, Zito hung a curveball that Jake Lamb hit to right for a home run and then walked Yasmany Tomas ahead of a Cody Ross double. Tomas eventually scored on a groundout by Oscar Hernandez, Zito’s final hitter.

"First two good again, got a couple pitches up in the last inning," Melvin said. "Whether he was tired or not in the third I don’t know. It seemed like there were some more balls that were up a little. But probably the first two innings, best stuff we’ve seen out of him."

Zito said he "just lost a little focus" in his final inning. His first two were more indicative of what he’s trying to do: "Driving in on (hitters’) hands, just missing barrels, (getting) weak contact whether in the air or on the ground."

Melvin said he peeked over at a radar gun a few times and saw Zito’s fastball reaching 86 and 87 miles per hour. Zito said he was happy with his fastball command and is focusing on developing sequences with his fastball, curveball and changeup.

Melvin said he hasn’t figured out yet when Zito will throw next. He has said he wants to get Zito another start, but the A’s have to use their remaining games to get other pitchers ready as well.

Melvin was asked Tuesday morning about whether Zito is a legitimate candidate for the starting rotation and indicated Zito is on the outside looking in -- the A’s have several young prospects competing with pitchers like Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Chavez who held rotation spots last season. Zito, though, made it clear he’s preparing for this season as a starter, regardless of where that takes him.

* With Crisp out, Melvin batted Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld 1-2 in the lineup and saw them combine to reach base in six of seven plate appearances. Gentry walked twice, doubled and scored two runs. Fuld had a single and two doubles, scored twice and drove in a run.

Gentry and Fuld were supposed to form a platoon in center field this season with Crisp shifting to left. But Reddick’s injury and Crisp ailing gives the A’s a chance to see the speedy Gentry-Fuld combination in the lineup at the same time, and Melvin likes it.

"When you do have that dynamic, not only can they do some things and create some havoc, it takes a little concentration off the pitcher knowing that somebody might run," Melvin said. "There’s just a lot of good things that happen when you have speed at the top of the lineup and those two guys are getting on base."

* Mark Canha also had a notable game, ranging a long way into the corner to track down Trumbo’s foul ball off Zito in the fifth inning and hitting an opposite-field homer. Canha has the pressure as a Rule 5 pick of having to make the 25-man roster out of camp or be offered back to his last team. Right now it sounds like he’s making a strong case.

"(He has) power, no question," Melvin said. "But I was just as impressed with his routes in left field today. Left field can be a tough sun field. For a guy we’re going to play a little bit all over, he was on it right away. You could see his breaks and his routes were really good, taking his eye off the ball and going after it and making some plays."

Melvin has already said he’s pleasantly surprised with Canha’s defensive versatility. The Cal product can play first base and both corner outfield positions, and the latter looks like it’s already paying dividends. Both Crisp and Reddick have had injury issues the past few seasons, and the A’s always say they’re looking for right-handed power in the lineup.

* Ryan Cook came on for the ninth in a one-run game and pitched a perfect inning with two strikeouts. Cook was going after hitters with his fastball and ended the game with a swinging strikeout on a hard slider.

That, Melvin agreed, is exactly what it looks like when Cook is on. Melvin was asked if Cook could be a candidate to close games to start the season, until Sean Doolittle returns from a shoulder injury, and said that’s not likely. Melvin said there’s a frontrunner for the job, very possibly right-hander Tyler Clippard, but he doesn’t yet want to say whom.

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

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