In less than a year of big-league time, Sonny Gray has started a division clincher, pitched the deciding game of an A.L. Division Series and taken the ball for the A’s on Opening Day of his first full season. He can now add to that resume an A.L. Pitcher of the Month award.
Gray learned of the recognition, which was announced by MLB today for the month of April, earlier today from manager Bob Melvin. The 24-year-old right-hander went 4-1 in March/April with a 1.76 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 41 innings, tying for first among A.L. starters in wins and ranking second in ERA. It’s the first such honor for an A’s pitcher since Bartolo Colon received the award last June.
Gray said it was "definitely exciting" to get the news from Melvin, but he stopped short of saying he’s surprised by the early trajectory his career has taken.
"I don’t know, I mean I have really high expectations for myself," Gray said. "Nothing’s really a surprise when you get to this level. You go out and compete and put in the work, and results will take care of themselves. It’s something where if you start to think about it, results will probably suffer."
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The A’s had Gray address the media ahead of Melvin the home dugout at the Coliseum, where they open a three-game series against the Mariners tonight. Melvin caught the end of Gray’s session and joked, "I thought he called his own press conference over here."
"Then I remembered he was pitcher of the month, and well deserved," Melvin said. "He’s come such a long way in a short period of time."
Gray’s final start of April was his best -- a complete-game, three-hit shutout of the Texas Rangers in Arlington. He struck out six and walked a season-low one in throwing his first career complete game on 108 pitches, and today said that was the highlight of the month for him.
It also came at an opportune time for the A’s, who had been swept by Texas at home the week before and were coming off consecutive losses at Houston. The A’s went on to sweep the Rangers in Texas and finish April with a record of 18-10.
One thing that has quickly become apparent about Gray is that he’s pretty unflappable. He was asked today why he doesn’t seem to get intimidated by big stages or situations and responded with a semi-defiant, semi-puzzled: "Why?" For clarity, he added: "I’m not intimidated."
"He was very intimidated of me when he first met me, so he’s lying to you in that respect," Melvin said with a grin. "But no, he’s not. He’s a happy-go-lucky guy who’s always been confident, back to his college days.
"He’s confident in what he does, yet he’s not cocky about it -- outwardly cocky about it. But you can see right away when he takes the mound, he’s got a purpose on the mound, he expects to do well, and that’s half the battle is when your expectations of yourself are very high."
So far, Gray’s career regular-season line in 19 games goes: 9-4, 2.35 ERA, 111 innings, 90 hits, 107 strikeouts, .220 opponents’ batting average. So he’s off to a pretty good start, now with some hardware to show for it.
• Gray started the series finale in Boston on Sunday, so the Mariners won’t see him in this series. Tonight it’s left-hander Scott Kazmir for the A’s, with this lineup behind him:
And the Mariners’ lineup behind right-hander Chris Young:
• By the way, two of the other top vote-getters for A.L. Pitcher of the Month -- Kazmir and A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez. Kazmir went 4-0 with a 2.11 ERA and 35 strikeouts in March/April, while Chavez was 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA. No other team had more than one pitcher receive votes.
• No Josh Reddick or Yoenis Cespedes for the A’s tonight. Melvin said that Cespedes (hamstring) came in today wanting to play, but he felt it was better to give Cespedes a night off at less than 100 percent, though he is available off the bench. Reddick (ankle) likely will be out "for a day or two," Melvin said.
• Melvin said the A’s are still undecided on a starting pitcher for the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader. He said they have "three guys in mind" -- Josh Lindblom and Arnold Leon, who are currently with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, and also an in-house option, which is most likely left-hander Drew Pomeranz.
The doubleheader is a makeup of the teams’ rainout here in week one. Dan Straily is listed as the starter for game one, which is at 12:35 p.m., with the second game starting 30 minutes after the end of the first.
• Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson was suiting up in the clubhouse today. Henderson, who works with the A’s as a kind of roving instructor, will be with the A’s for this series, Melvin said, during which time players are encouraged to "just pick his brain some."
"Anytime we can get him here, our guys are smart enough to know to go up t ohim and try to pick something up, whether it’s something he picked up on pitchers or whatever," Melvin said. "He and Coco speak a lot and kind of bounce things off each other, so it’s nice to have him here."
In Henderson’s honor, here’s one positive stat for the A’s: They’re 21-for-23 on stolen base attempts this season, good for a 91.3 percent success rate that leads the majors.