Rewind: A hard day's work ends well for A's Sonny Gray


Rewind: A hard day's work ends well for A's Sonny Gray

OAKLAND – The manager’s handshake typically is the sign of a job well done for a starting pitcher.

For A’s ace Sonny Gray, a handshake from Bob Melvin was something to avoid after the fifth inning Saturday. His pitch count already at 100, Gray badly wanted to take the mound again for the sixth.

“To me, if I don't look at him he might not take me out,” Gray said afterward. “I was waiting for the handshake, and in the back of my mind I was like, 'Maybe he's going to give me the handshake, but if I just take a hard right turn and don't put my hand out, maybe he'll let me go back out there.’"

Gray got his wish and turned in his best inning of the afternoon before handing things over to his bullpen in a 5-3 A’s victory over the Kansas City Royals. Gray struck out his final two batters of the sixth, capping a 114-pitch outing that was no masterpiece but oh-so-important for Oakland’s pitching staff.

The A’s bullpen has been absorbing too many innings so far this season due to the starters not getting deep enough in games. The problem Saturday was that the Royals put together some tough two-out at-bats, making Gray work harder and longer. It didn’t help that there were several ground balls hit to the right side that weren’t converted into outs.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Early offense, Gray guide A's past Royals]

It was important for Gray to gut his way through six and get a lead to the late-inning trio of John Axford, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson, who gave up a run in the ninth but notched his third save.

“We needed him to get through that inning,” Melvin said of Gray. “It was a frustrating game for him … You really have to put that aside and be mentally tough to go out there and pitch the way he did.”

The A’s supported Gray with early offense thanks to Josh Reddick’s three-run homer in the first, and they stopped a four-game losing skid. Sunday afternoon’s rubber match sure seems like a ‘swing’ game for the A’s momentum-wise. A win only salvages a 2-4 homestand, but taking two of three from the defending World Series champs would be a nice way to head out on a 10-game road trip that begins Tuesday against the Yankees.

Though there’s still work to accomplish, Melvin placed heavy value on Saturday’s victory.

“It was (a big win),” Melvin said, “especially with our ace on the mound. You never want to say this early in the season that anything is a must-win, but it was a big win for us. We needed to get it to get some confidence back here.”

The fact that Doolittle had a positive day, after allowing homers in each of his two previous outings, had to be good for his confidence. Called upon in relief of Axford with a runner aboard and the A’s leading 5-2 in the eighth, he retired the left-handed hitting Alex Gordon on a fly to right to end that inning.

“It was great to see Doo back out there and get the job done,” Reddick said.

Melvin left things open-ended after the game when asked if he considers Madson his regular closer right now over Doolittle. Doolittle has been used more for matchup-type situations in this series, but Melvin said before the game he thinks the lefty is throwing well despite the homers.

It was a spotty afternoon for the A’s defense, in particular second baseman Jed Lowrie. He was charged with two errors and had a couple other balls hit his way that he couldn’t make the play on. Plays like that contributed to the frustrations for Gray that Melvin referenced, though asked specifically about some of the plays Lowrie was involved in, Melvin added:

“Those were just extended out of his reach.”

Gray’s 114 pitches were the third-most of his career. But he navigated through a tough Royals lineup to give up just one earned run over six innings, managing to play keep-away from his manager in the process.

“I was glad that they gave me the opportunity to go back out there for the sixth,” Gray said. “When you play these guys you're going to be in for a fight. That's what it was today.”

Ryon Healy trade has domino effect


Ryon Healy trade has domino effect

The A’s wasted no time making their first major move of the offseason, and it has a domino effect on how their 2018 lineup will take shape.

The trade of young slugger Ryon Healy to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday paves the way for left fielder Khris Davis to start getting heavy at-bats as the designated hitter, the spot left vacant by Healy.

It also points to another move the A’s want to pull off — acquiring a right-handed hitting corner outfielder who presumably can eat up those defensive innings that Davis spends as the DH.

It’s a series of moves that isn’t all that surprising given the A’s roster makeup right now. Healy, who hit .282 with 38 homers in 221 games over his first two big league seasons, is capable of playing either first or third base. But Matt Olson and Matt Chapman secured those spots, respectively, with their solid showings as rookies last season.

“We’ve obviously talked a lot since the end of the season about adding to the bullpen,” A’s general manager David Forst said on a conference call Wednesday night. “At the same time, with the emergence of Matt and Matt, on the corners, maybe Ryon needed to be somebody we might have to move ...”

It makes sense for Oakland to find a way to shift Davis from being the everyday left fielder while still keeping his 40-homer bat in the lineup. Opponents have routinely taken extra bases the past two seasons on Davis’ throwing arm, and whether they add a newcomer to play left or shift Joyce or someone else there, chances are they can benefit from better defense in left.

The A’s also feel they got an important chip back from Seattle to help bolster a bullpen that ranked 13th in the American League last season with a 4.57 ERA. They received right-hander Emilio Pagan (along with minor league shortstop Alexander Campos), and figure that the 26-year-old Pagan is someone the A’s have pegged to be an immediate contributor in their ‘pen.

A 10th round draft pick in 2013, Pagan made his big league debut in 2017 and posted a 3.22 ERA over 34 games spread over four stints with Seattle. He endured a rocky first couple of outings but, after being called up for good in the second half, eventually worked his way into a late-inning setup role. Pagan struck out 56 and walked just eight in 50 1/3 innings, numbers that surely popped out to Oakland’s front office.

He’ll likely be called upon in middle relief to help set the table for Chris Hatcher and closer Blake Treinen, as the bullpen currently looks.

Campos, just 17, spent this past season in the Dominican Summer League, and Forst said the A’s were eyeing Campos last summer when they eventually traded Yonder Alonso to the Mariners. Oakland wound up getting center fielder Boog Powell back in that deal.

Did the A’s rake in enough for Healy? As with all trades, it will take time to judge. But it’s fair to say that Healy’s departure will be felt in a clubhouse that is characterized by the emergence of many young position players, and he was a part of that group. In fact, when Healy was called up in July 2016 — knocking Danny Valencia out as the regular third baseman — he became the first of several promising position-player prospects to establish himself in Oakland’s lineup.

He rented a house in the East Bay and eventually took in Chapman, Olson and Chad Pinder as roommates. There’s a fiery side to Healy’s on-field personality that was a positive for the A’s, and watching him play Oakland as a member of an AL West rival will make for entertaining theatre.

Another storyline is how Davis takes to being a regular DH. Forst praised Davis’ approach to his game and doesn’t anticipate any problems, adding that the A’s still want to get Davis some time in the outfield.

A's trade Ryon Healy to Mariners for two players


A's trade Ryon Healy to Mariners for two players

The rumors were indeed true. Ryon Healy was on the trade block.

And now Healy has been the Mariners.

The two teams announced the trade Wednesday evening.

Oakland will receive right-handed pitcher Emilio Pagan and shortstop Alexander Campos.

Healy burst on to the scene in 2016 with 13 home runs and 37 RBI in 72 games. This past season, he finished second on the A's with 25 home runs and 78 RBI. But he had become the odd man out in the A's lineup with Matt Olson and Matt Chapman solidifying the corner infield spots.

The 25-year-old is familiar with the Pacific Northwest as he attended the University of Oregon.

Pagan, 26, made his major league debut during the 2017 season. In 34 relief appearances with the Mariners, he posted a 3.22 ERA and struck out 56 batters in 50.1 innings. Against the A's, Pagan allowed one run in 5.1 innings over three outings. A native of South Carolina, Pagan was drafted by the Mariners in the 10th round of the 2013 MLB Draft.

Campos appears to be the prize of the trade, though he's a bit further away from reaching the major leagues. Just 17 years old, Campos signed out of Venezuela in 2016 and made his professional debut this past season. In 59 games for the Mariners' Domincan Summer League team, Campos hit .290/.413/.367 with 10 doubles, two home runs and 26 RBI.

MLB Pipeline ranked Campos as Seattle's No. 15 prospect.