OAKLAND — Sonny Gray’s biggest challenge this spring won’t come in the form of an opposing batter.
It will be fielding question after question about what went wrong in 2016 — and how to correct it — when all the A’s right-hander really wants to do is turn the page.
You think “fresh start” is a worn-out Cactus League cliche?
Don’t tell that to Gray, who feels healthy and eager to erase the memories from last year’s debacle of a season.
“There’s no reason to dwell on that, no reason to dwell on the injury or performance or anything,” Gray said during a media session in advance of the A’s FanFest on Saturday. “You just kind of turn the page and you move on, put all of your focus, all of your preparation on this upcoming season, and whatever happened last year was last year. There’s really nothing you can do about it now.”
A combination of injuries and command issues derailed the 2015 All-Star last season, sending him to a 5-11 record and 5.69 ERA. It was a surprising left turn for a pitcher who rose to the level of the American League’s elite over his first two-plus seasons.
A strained trapezius, and later a strained right forearm, led to two D.L. stints and 60 games missed. On Friday, he revealed that the physical issues began as early as spring training. Asked specifically what began bothering him in the spring, Gray wouldn’t offer details. But he feels the physical woes contributed to his mechanics getting out of whack.
“I know that my arm, a lot of times when you have some issues and you’re not feeling 100 percent healthy, that’s when you start changing your mechanics,” he said. “You over-compensate for how you’re feeling, and when you start doing that, that’s when stuff can escalate quickly and snowball.
“Even some other stuff in the spring, I had issues going on and then it just leads to another and leads to another. Before you can take a step back and actually get healthy, it’s gonna continue to make the situation worse.”
A full offseason has the 27-year-old Gray feeling 100 percent again. He’s thrown off the mound twice so far, with A’s pitchers and catchers preparing to report Feb. 14. His work with a personal trainer has his lower half feeling strong. As for his mechanics, he said he feels “more compact” with the way the ball is coming out.
“I haven’t really changed my mechanics, it’s more or less just staying more under control and taking away some of the movement. To someone watching, you wouldn’t even notice. But to me, moving something three or four inches is a big deal.”
The A’s feel their starting pitching is a strength, with the hope that Gray rebounds to join Kendall Graveman atop the rotation, backed by highly regarded lefty Sean Manaea and then some combination of Jharel Cotton, Andrew Triggs, Jesse Hahn, Raul Alcantara, Daniel Mengden and perhaps others.
A return to form by Gray, who finished third in the 2015 AL Cy Young race, would deliver a shot of confidence throughout the entire clubhouse.
“He’s huge. He’s a top-five pitcher in baseball,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “To have him at the top of our rotation, it all trickles down from him. He sets the standard.”
Some other newsy tidbits from Friday’s media session:
Manager Bob Melvin said Jed Lowrie is his starting second baseman if he’s healthy. Lowrie has been progressing well from foot surgery to repair ligament damage, a cyst and a bunion on his left foot.
“We’ve got a long spring to get him ready, and we’re not gonna push him too hard to begin with,” Melvin said. “But as we sit here right now, a healthy Jed Lowrie is the guy that’s going to play second base for us.”
If Lowrie’s healthy, and assuming newly signed Adam Rosales is the utility infielder, it could make it hard for either Joey Wendle or Chad Pinder to make the club, depending on how many outfielders the A’s want to keep.
Catcher Josh Phegley is recovering well from knee surgery that ended his 2016 early, and Melvin said he’s hopeful Phegley is ready for the start of camp.
Mark Canha is fully recovered from left hip surgery and a full-go for spring training. He’s also 10 pounds heavier, which he thinks will help his energy throughout the long season.
He joked that he and pitcher Chris Bassitt, sidelined most of last year by Tommy John surgery, had a contest at the end of last season to see who could put on more weight.
“I ended up winning that contest,” Canha said.
No surprise for someone with the Instagram account @bigleaguefoodie.
Players expressed eagerness over the A's shifting FanFest from the Coliseum to Jack London Square. The event runs Saturday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., with free admission, free autograph sessions and free food trucks, plus the usual Q&A sessions with players and coaches.
New A's President Dave Kaval will give what is described as a "State of the Team" address at 11 a.m. at the Ferry Dock Lawn.