OAKLAND — A cell phone can be the worst enemy for a ballplayer trying to get in the competitive frame of mind before first pitch.
Sonny Gray had his next to him leading up to Friday night’s start.
He probably wishes he hadn’t.
Less than an hour before game time at the Coliseum, Gray’s phone lit up with text messages from friends and loved ones who saw a false tweet coming out of Chicago that the A’s right-hander had been scratched against the Cleveland Indians, leading to all kinds of speculation that a trade was in the works.
“It’s hard,” Gray said. “You get 50 text messages 45 minutes before the game, and that’s when you just try to put your phone away and go to a place where you can block everything out and get ready for the game. So that’s kind of what I tried to do.”
About the only place he’ll be able to escape those rumors is when he walks to the mound. Gray set the distractions aside Friday and provided yet another stellar effort, bottling up the Cleveland Indians over six innings in Oakland’s 5-0 victory coming out of the All-Star break.
Over the past four starts, Gray is 3-1 and has surrendered just four earned runs in 27 innings for a 1.33 ERA. If you throw out an abbreviated one-inning outing in Anaheim in September of last season, Friday marked Gray’s first scoreless start since Sept. 8, 2015 against Houston. But it’s merely an extension of the excellent form he’s shown lately.
The downside of that success — no starter in the majors has more speculation swirling around him as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches.
Gray has downplayed things after some previous starts when the trade topic has come up. On Friday night, he didn’t hide the fact that the bogus pregame report bothered him a bit.
But he says it never got to the point where he went and asked anyone A’s-affiliated if he indeed he had been scratched and didn’t know it.
“I mean, it would be nice to have (some clarity), I guess, but that’s not how it works,” Gray said.
He wasn’t the only Athletic trade target who stood out Friday. Yonder Alonso crushed his 21st home run. Relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson both continued to exhibit their sharp form.
Shopping season has begun for contending teams, and the A’s “For Sale” sign is up. But it will take a boatload in return for a team to land Gray. The A’s have some leverage — a starter who is still young (27) and under team control for two more seasons after this. And with the Cubs coughing up two prime-time prospects to the White Sox in a package to get Jose Quintana — a starter with similar value as Gray — the A’s asking price gets steeper.
Whether a team ponies up to meet their high demand is the key to whether the A’s pull the trigger. After stocking up on young pitchers over the past couple of years, indications are the A’s would now like to get their hands on young, impact position players.
And it makes sense they would want prospects who are major league ready now, or very close to it. The outfield remains an area that needs upgrading.
Until then, Gray will do his best to keep his cell phone out of sight and ignore the rumors. “It’s just one of those things that you have to deal with sometimes,” he said. “Whatever happens is gonna happen, and that’s out of my control.”