OAKLAND — All seems right in the A’s world when Sonny Gray is dealing as he did Thursday night.
After a rough first, the right-hander found a groove and held the Boston Red Sox to just one hit over his final five innings as the A’s rang up an 8-3 victory to start a six-game homestand on a high note.
Plagued by injuries and inconsistency since the start of last season, Gray found the win column for the first time since July 26, 2016. More importantly from the team perspective, the 2015 All-Star showed continued signs of rounding into form in his fourth start since coming off the disabled list.
“Sonny was absolutely outstanding,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “The first inning, they jumped on him a little bit. But he looked as good as I’ve seen him in a very long time. He felt good. He had all four pitches working, and he really put the ball where he wanted to.”
Gray struck out eight in the 100th start of his career. That’s the most he’s punched out since that start last summer at Texas when he’d pocketed his last win. The tone of his postgame media session Thursday was proof that he’s feeling better on the mound these days.
He’s spent so many past postgame interviews searching for ways to explain what went wrong during a particular outing. On Thursday night, Gray got the chance to expand on all that went right. Most importantly, after getting ahead in the count, he found a way to put guys away with a slider that had Sox hitters chasing all night.
“After my last start, I really struggled putting guys away, and that’s something that’s kind of been a focus for a while now,” Gray said. “I feel like my stuff is getting better, and now just putting together a whole start is something I’m going to have to do. But I feel like my stuff is the best it’s been in I can’t remember when.”
That last statement is huge from the standpoint that Gray is pitching back-to-back in the rotation with Kendall Graveman. When both are dealing, the A’s have to like their chances of having a chance to win on two consecutive days.
And Thursday’s victory was big because it helped the A’s wash out the taste of a 1-5 road trip. The Red Sox, who arrived at their hotel at 4 a.m. Thursday morning after playing 13 innings in St. Louis, had won nine of their previous 10 against the A’s.
They scored twice off Gray in the first. But Oakland answered right back with three in the bottom half when Jed Lowrie drilled a two-run homer to center and Khris Davis followed with his 12th homer, a drive to right-center off Hector Velazquez, who was touched for six runs in his major league debut.
The A’s got a two-run homer from Chad Pinder in their three-run fourth when they broke a 3-3 tie and took the lead for good.
Gray said he threw his changeup a bit more than usual. Combining his fastball, slider and curve, it gave him a complete mix to throw at Boston. In light of Gray going 5-11 last season with a 5.69 ERA, manager Bob Melvin was asked after the game if he felt confident to declare Gray was on his way back to the form that made him a Cy Young finalist in 2015.
“I never think that he's not,” Melvin said in backing his pitcher. “Even when he had a tough year last year — everybody's going to have a tough year. There were injuries involved in it. But the stuff is always there, and he's quite the competitor. One year is not going to get me off who I think he is.”