The A’s already need to fill two spots in their starting rotation next week. After right-hander Sonny Gray exited Saturday’s game with a forearm injury, they were waiting to learn if another replacement will be required.
Gray threw 72 pitches through five innings but did not return for the sixth as the A’s lost 4-0 to the Chicago Cubs. The A’s said their ace was experiencing soreness in the extensor muscle on the top side of his right forearm.
“Hopefully it’s minor,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He was fighting to go back out.”
The last thing the A’s need right now is another injury to a starting pitcher. Oakland entered Saturday with five injured starters – Henderson Alvarez, Chris Bassitt, Felix Doubront, Jesse Hahn and Jarrod Parker – contributing to a season-high 13 players on their disabled list. Gray already missed two weeks earlier this season with a strained trapezius muscle.
Overall the A’s have used the disabled list 24 times this season, one short of the Oakland record set in 2008. It is not the only reason the A’s are in last place – they dropped a season-high 14 games below .500 on Saturday – but it certainly hasn’t helped.
“It’s frustrating,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “We’ve got a starting rotation on the DL, it seems like, or banged up. It’s very, very frustrating.”
Melvin sounded tentatively hopeful that Gray’s forearm will not sideline him for long. Gray said he first felt “a little bit of an issue” in the fourth inning, and it returned in the fifth. After he threw a curveball to strike out the Cubs’ Dexter Fowler for the second out of the fifth inning, he appeared to grimace in discomfort.
“I saw that, too,” Melvin said. “He didn’t come to me. He was just trying to get some heat on (the forearm) and go back out there. He talked to the trainer about it, and we felt like we needed to get him out of there.”
Gray said he lobbied to return for the sixth, but “that obviously wasn’t going to happen,” the pitcher said.
“I felt like I could’ve tried to continue to pitch,” Gray said. “So just hopefully it’ll feel OK the rest of the day today, and then coming in here tomorrow, that’s going to be the big test.”
Gray was having one of his better outings in a down season. He allowed two runs, both in the third inning on a series of soft hits.
Willson Contreras floated a leadoff single to right-center, and Fowler blooped a single just out of Coco Crisp’s reach in left. Gray struck out Kris Bryant on a curveball, retired Anthony Rizzo on a groundout and got ahead of Ben Zobrist, 1-2. But Zobrist fought a high, 94-mph fastball back up the middle for a two-run single.
“That’s kind of the way his year’s been going,” Vogt said. “He made some really, really good pitches. The pitch Zobrist hit out to center, not many people are hitting that pitch. He jammed him pretty good, and he just kind of flicked it out there.”
Gray was adamant there was “not one thing I would’ve done differently” in the inning.
“That’s the most frustrating thing is feeling good out there and having some stuff, being able to make some pitches, and then to have it cut short like this,” Gray said.
Gray fell to 5-11 on the season, his ERA inching downward to 5.74. He said he couldn’t speculate on whether he will make his next scheduled start but sounded optimistic about his outing Saturday.
“If I can get my curveball rolling like that,” he said, “it’s been something that’s been missing for the majority of this year.”
Missing Saturday was any kind of support, as the A’s failed to move a runner past second base against Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta. The Cubs had been winless in Arrieta’s last five starts after starting the season 10-0 behind last year’s National League Cy Young winner.
Oakland’s rotation problems run a bit deeper. With Hahn going to the disabled list Friday and Dillon Overton optioned to Triple A after a rough start Friday, the A’s need starters for Tuesday and Wednesday. Before the game, Melvin said Daniel Mengden and Zach Neal are leading candidates.