On Thursday afternoon at the O.Co Coliseum, Sony Gray reeled off his first major league win as he demolished an under strength Houston Astros lineup.
The 2011 first-round draft pick tossed eight innings allowing no runs on four hits while striking out nine. After the impressive outing, manager Bob Melvin noted:
“Stuff wise [he's] probably as good as anyone we have.”
That’s quite the compliment from the Oakland skipper as the youthful staff is quite talented, if lacking a true frontline starter. The stellar effort becomes that much more important with the news that Bartolo Colon, who leads the team with 14 wins, has been placed on the DL.
Of Gray’s outing, which was his first ever appearance at home, Melvin said: “It was great. He didn’t really even get locked in until the third, then all the sudden he’s off to the races. So, a pretty impressive performance. He’s got plus everything, a great disposition on the mound, a very confident kid.”
For his part, the 23-year-old right-hander said he was just trying to go out there and “make pitches.”
“The three runs in the first helped. I was able to be a lot more aggressive. The only thing you can control as a pitcher is to execute your pitches, and let your defense play behind you. That’s what happened today.”
At what point did the young starter realize that he was at the top of his game against the Astros?
“The second inning on I knew that my stuff was going to be pretty good, but to be able to go eight innings is a pretty awesome feeling.”
Derek Norris, the A’s second-year catcher, who was behind the plate, was noticeably impressed by the pitcher’s demeanor.
“You know what, he really is,” said Norris when asked about Gray’s composure. “He shows a lot of composure on the mound.”
Norris then added: “ He’s one of those guys who’s got a lot of energy. He can’t sit still in the dugout. But he did show a lot of composure, and I’m very happy for him to get his first win, and most importantly get our ball club a nice win.”
Nate Freiman, who also enjoyed a big day on Thursday afternoon, weighed in with his impressions of the fellow rookie: “He was mixing pitches, mixing speeds, mixing locations. That’s how he went eight scoreless. It was really special.”
Freiman, who on Thursday became the first A’s rookie since Ben Grieve in 1998 to collect four hits and four RBI in a single game, saw quite a bit of Gray last season while both were playing Double-A ball in the Texas League.
“For the most part, it ended in his favor. He wasn’t exactly who we looked forward to facing.”
After his outing at the Coliseum, there will be quite a few big league teams who won’t be looking forward to facing the diminutive starter either. Could the former Vanderbilt standout change the dynamic of the race in the AL West, where the A’s currently trail the Texas Rangers by half a game?
“I don’t really look at it as far as changing the dynamic. It just means we have another quality guy.”
Melvin also praised the way that GM Billy Beane and the organization handled the development of the former top pick, who received a $1.54 million signing bonus.
“You want to make sure someone like that is ready for the big leagues. More emotionally than anything else.”
Back in the summer of 2011 after a couple weeks in rookie league, the team sent Gray directly to Double-A. It was an aggressive decision, and the same move that the club had made with Barry Zito. While it worked with the 2002 Cy Young winner, and seems to be working for Gray, it’s a risky path. 2007 top pick James Simmons was also sent straight to Double-A after joining the organization. The starter has spent most of his 2013 season floundering with the club’s Single-A affiliate.
Melvin continued: “I think the organization did a smart thing. It brought him up and pitched him out of the bullpen a couple of times to get his feet wet. Then brought him up to start, and he’s really been great.”
Against the Astros, who trail the Rangers by 29.5 games, Gray was downright dominant. Norris discussed the right-hander’s arsenal:
“It’s outstanding. The silly part about it, is he throws nothing straight. His fastball cuts, it sinks, it runs, it’s got depth.”
The catcher didn’t seem surprised that the Houston hitters were unable to lay off Gray’s curve ball.
“I don’t know how you couldn’t. It’s very good, and it stays on the same plane as his fastball and then just breaks off the table.”
Freiman knows first-hand just how devastating that curve can be: “It’s really good. He was throwing it in 3-2 counts. When the guy is throwing mid 90s with movement, and he drops that kind of curve ball on you 3-2, that’s a tough guy.”
Perhaps the most remarkable part of the outing, though, was the Gray didn’t even bother to use all of his pitches.
“Um we didn’t even use the slider.” Norris then paused to underscore just how impressed he was before explaining that they had relied on Gray’s fastball, curve and change up. “He’s got a very good change up as well.”
Gray noted: “Fastball, curve was kind of what we were working today, and we froze a couple of guys with the change up. When something’s working, you kind of just have to stay with it.”
Norris said of the difference between the curve and the elusive slider: “The curve ball definitely has got bigger break. He throws the hell out of it. It’s very sharp, and he’s got a great feel for it, which is the most remarkable part about it all.”
Gray added of his curve: “It’s always been one of my go-to pitches ever since high school. It’s always pretty much been there for me.”
The 24-year-old Norris also commented on the shutdown performance that came on the heels of a pair of ugly losses to the cellar-dwelling Astros.
“He threw the ball outstanding. He’s a very exciting arm. I’m looking forward to catching him.”
Freiman echoed the catcher’s enthusiasm:
“That’s huge for us to have a guy that can go out there, and be that kind of dominant. That was special. So, it will be exciting to watch him moving forward.”
Pretty much from the day he was drafted, Gray has been compared to former A’s ace Tim Hudson. Gray’s not so sure about the parallel, though: “I think they make the comparison more because, you know the size, and he has a good two-seam. Me personally I don’t really like to study other guys. More myself to see what I can do better, what I can adjust.”
Gray did add, however, that he enjoys watching Hudson pitch. On Thursday, the crowd sure enjoyed watching Gray, and the pitcher seemed to be thriving off the energy that was running through the crowd and the dugout.
“I thought I was going to be done after seven. Having Bob come over and say ‘Let’s go get them, one more.’ That was awesome getting a little more adrenaline to get through the eighth inning.”
The way he pitched Thursday, that won’t be the last time that Melvin sends out the talented right-hander for “one more.”