San Francisco Giants

Gray takes mound as A’s try to maintain wild-card lead

Since being named A.L. Pitcher of the Month for July, A’s right-hander Sonny Gray has rarely exhibited the same dominance he did in that month.

Gray went 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA in five starts in July. At that point he was 12-3, his victory total tied for second in the league. In 10 starts since the calendar turned to August, Gray is 1-6 with an ERA of 4.64, and the A’s have won just two of his outings.

In his first 21 starts this season, Gray failed to complete six innings just twice. In his last nine starts, that has happened four times, including his last outing Sept. 18 against Texas. The Rangers scored five runs –four earned – on eight hits off Gray in five innings, with four of the runs coming in the first.

With a pitcher like Gray, who’s in his first full major-league season, there might be a natural question of whether the innings load is wearing on him this late in the season. Gray, 24, has thrown 203 innings this year with two starts remaining and the possibility of a playoff run.

Manager Bob Melvin was asked about Gray’s workload Tuesday, though, and said he thinks Gray has “held up pretty well.”

“You look at the velocity and you look at his stuff, I think it’s still really good,” Melvin said. “And he’s a guy that really battles.

“No one’s going to feel 100 percent right now or at their best, and I think he just falls into that with anybody who’s pitched 200 innings or whatever at this point in the season. But with what you’re playing for right now, the adrenaline picks up some. His preparation stays the same every start, and he expects to do well each time out.”

The A’s could use a strong start from Gray tonight as they try to hold off the Royals and Mariners in the wild-card race. Their lineup behind Gray, facing Angels left-hander Wade LeBlanc, looks like this:

CF Crisp

LF Fuld

3B Donaldson

DH Norris

1B Vogt

SS Lowrie

RF Reddick

C Soto

2B Sogard

And the Angels’ lineup against Gray:

RF Calhoun

CF Trout

1B Pujols

2B Kendrick

SS Aybar

DH Cron

LF Navarro

C Conger

3B Beckham

• Melvin said he could use Derek Norris at catcher, if necessary. Norris was off-limits Monday night after getting a shot for some shoulder soreness. More likely, though, he will catch Wednesday’s series finale, a day game.

• Asked again about Josh Donaldson’s defense at third base Monday night, Melvin said: “It’s like a shortstop playing third. You don’t get too many guys who get to the balls that he gets to.”

Donaldson leads all A.L. players this season with 22 errors – third-most in the majors. But Melvin argued that many of those errors have been the product of Donaldson’s range.

“Sometimes he’ll throw some balls away just because he’s made such a great play and he has a chance to potentially get an out,” Melvin said.

On Donaldson has the seventh-best defensive WAR (2.6) of any major-league player, another argument that his error count shouldn’t define his defensive season. Monday night in the eighth inning, for example, Donaldson made two terrific stops on hard-hit balls to third, but was unable to turn either into outs – one throw was off-line as he tried to beat the speed of Mike Trout to first.

“I think his defense is every bit as good this year as it was last year,” Melvin said.

• In 10 games prior to Sunday, the A’s had scored a combined 19 runs. In their last two games, they’ve scored 16.

“I think for me it’s just the law of averages,” Melvin said, “and relaxing a little bit. Once you get a few hits, now you can relax a little bit more, and hopefully we’re looking at a trend here.”

• Tuesday afternoon, closer Sean Doolittle was presented with the Bill Rigney “Good Guy” Award by the local chapter of the BBWAA, recognizing a player’s dealings with media during the season. Doolittle, who lockers next to last year’s winner, Brandon Moss, turned to Moss upon receiving the award and said: “In your face!”

Doolittle was told that former A’s catcher Kurt Suzuki is the only two-time recipient. His response: “Well, he’s a catcher, so you could be talking to him every night. If you’re talking to me every night, we’ve got problems.”

Good point.