MESA, Ariz. -- Sonny Gray will throw the first pitch of the 2015 season for the A’s when they open at home against the Texas Rangers on April 6.
Manager Bob Melvin jokingly warned reporters to sit down before he made the not-so-surprising announcement Monday morning. Gray was the A’s opening day starter last season and, even at 25 years old, is the clear ace of an Oakland rotation that still looks somewhat murky behind him.
Gray went 14-10 with a 3.08 ERA last year in his first full season in the majors and was twice named the American League Pitcher of the Month, in April and August. On Sept. 28, he threw a six-hit shutout in Texas that clinched a wild-card berth for the A’s.
"He’s made for this," Melvin said. "It’s kind of who he is. He’s extremely competitive, he’s talented, loves the spotlight games. If anyone was made for it, it’s him."
The A’s have felt that way since shortly after Gray made his major-league debut in 2013. In the deciding Game 5 of the ALCS that year, they decided to start Gray over Cy Young candidate and veteran Bartolo Colon against the Detroit Tigers’ Justin Verlander, setting up a rematch of the A’s 1-0 win in Game 2 in which Gray threw eight scoreless innings.
Gray allowed three runs in five innings in Game 5 and Verlander threw a complete-game shutout to send the Tigers to the ALCS. Still, Melvin said Monday, "To this day, I think it was the right thing to do."
With the offseason departures of starters Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel, Gray qualifies as a veteran in the A’s rotation, and Melvin said Gray embraces that role.
"He’s just that much more comfortable here now in the role he’s in," Melvin said. "I think he’s a little bit better about harnessing that energy, even though it’s always there. He knows himself better after a full season last year."
After Gray, the rotation is still rounding into form. Scott Kazmir is a lock, but Melvin said Kazmir could make his first start in either the second or third game of the season. The A’s will fill out the rotation from a pool of returning pitchers -- Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz, who both started games for the A’s last season -- and young prospects including Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman and Chris Bassitt.