A’s right-hander Sonny Gray took a step toward pitching in games Friday, facing hitters in a simulated setting on a back field at Hohokam Stadium.
Gray threw about 42 pitches during 12 at-bats in his most realistic and high-intensity outing this spring. He was facing teammates with no defense behind him but said he still tried to treat it as a game.
“I felt good,” Gray said. “I would say (my pitches) were coming out pretty well, fastball was moving a lot. … Obviously you’re going to mix some other stuff in this early, but my fastball was definitely really good and I felt very comfortable with it today.”
Gray allowed a couple of hard hits, including a home run by minor-league infielder Renato Nunez on what the right-hander called “my new splitty” – or split-finger, which functions like a changeup. Catcher Stephen Vogt said Gray also threw a couple good changeups.
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“I think his fastball command was unbelievable, ball was moving a ton, breaking ball was really sharp,” Vogt said.
Gray typically has pronounced movement on his low-90s fastball, and Vogt said that was the case Friday, especially on one pitch that got past Vogt to the backstop.
“It was supposed to be a sinker, and it ended up cutting about 3 feet,” Vogt said. “It was absolutely disgusting.”
The simulated setting apparently did not lessen Gray’s intensity, either. In the first at-bat, Vogt said, “I called a pitch that I wouldn’t normally call, and he kind of called me out (to the mound) like, ‘Hey, this is a real game, let’s go.’ ” Gray said he told Vogt they “might want to do something else” with the pitch selection in that situation.
“It’s early (in spring) and you want to throw all your pitches,” Gray said. “But we were just clarifying with each other.”
The A’s are easing Gray along because of his workload last season. Gray said he’s on board with the plan but expects to throw a bullpen session Sunday and make his first Cactus League start next week.
“I feel really good right now,” Gray said. “Today was a very good day, I would say.”
Et cetera – Right-hander John Axford also threw a simulated inning, facing six hitters and allowing three line-drive hits with one strikeout.
“His ball had really good life; I think all three hitters were like, ‘Wow, this is funky,’ ” Vogt said. “He’s got a little hesitation and the ball explodes out of his hand.”
▪ Closer Sean Doolittle made his first Cactus League appearance in the A’s 9-4 win over the Colorado Rockies and allowed a run on three hits in one inning, but he said he made some adjustments mid-inning and “felt pretty good, all things considered.”
▪ Franklin Barreto, a highly regarded 20-year-old minor-league infielder, homered in his first at-bat of the spring in the sixth inning against Rockies left-hander Ryan Carpenter.
“You try to get some kids like that into decent matchups later in the game,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He gets in there against a lefty and goes deep. It’s that easy, I guess.”