PEORIA, Ariz. — Sonny Gray’s pitching line Wednesday will quickly fade from memory, but it was clear what the outing meant to the A’s right-hander.
Looking to turn the page from the toughest season of his career, Gray threw two very sharp innings against the San Diego Padres in his Cactus League debut at Peoria Sports Complex.
After a leadoff double by Travis Jankowski in the first, Gray retired six consecutive batters, four via strikeout, and called it a day. More than just a clean first outing, for Gray it provided some validation for all the work he’s put in to get his game back on track.
“It’s been a while,” said Gray, who last year made just two starts after July because of injuries. “I know it’s just spring training, but to us, it’s a real game. Umpires … fans … everything. It’s nice to get back out there and be able to compete and execute and feel good, that’s the big thing. To be able to throw and feel good.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin wasn’t surprised that Gray placed more emphasis than might typically be expected on a first spring training start.
“If there’s another team with a different uniform on, it’s a real game for him,” Melvin said.
It wasn’t just two D.L. stints that sent his 2016 season wayward. Gray struggled with mechanics, which in turn affected his command. Much of his work from the middle of last season to now has focused on ironing out flaws in his delivery.
He threw 19 of 27 pitches for strikes Wednesday and was particularly sharp with his curveball and sinker, according to catcher Bruce Maxwell. Even on the double, surrendered to the left-handed hitting Jankowski on an 0-1 pitch, Gray wasn’t displeased with his pitch.
He talked before the season of his mechanics being more compact now, and he said Wednesday there’s a night-and-day difference when he’s feeling in sync on the mound.
“It’s pretty noticeable, if you look at the stuff I was doing last year, and you take (Wednesday’s) outing and look at that,” Gray said. “It’s really keeping my hands close to my body, limit the movement that way and maybe put my arm in a better spot on a consistent basis.
“It’s what I’ve done in the past, and over time it can slowly start to get away from your staples. Your mechanical staples. … When you catch it, you re-focus and work on it and get it right.”
PROSPECT WATCH: Third baseman Renato Nunez has been on the A’s radar as a prospect to watch since they signed him out of Venezuela at age 16. But with Matt Chapman pegged as the A’s potential future starter at third, and Ryon Healy having already shown he can play the position in the bigs, the 22-year-old Nunez finds himself in a logjam.
This spring, Nunez has been working some in left field, and Melvin said he wants to try to get Nunez time in left and perhaps at first base in games.
“You can’t ignore the offensive numbers,” Melvin said. “I think it’s finding the right position for him and/or maybe some versatility that allows him to hopefully get to the big leagues a little bit quicker.”
Nunez has combined for 89 homers over the past four seasons in the minors. He received his first call-up in September last season and went 2-for-15 with an RBI.
NOTEWORTHY: The A’s mustered just two hits against the Padres and lost 5-0 in a game that finished in just 2 hours, 24 minutes. Daniel Coulombe, fighting for the final spot in the bullpen, gave up a run on two hits and struck out one in his only inning of work.
FAMILIAR FACE: Making the start for the Padres was Trevor Cahill, who was an All-Star and 18-game winner for Oakland in 2010. Cahill, who celebrated his 29th birthday Wednesday, pitched out of the Cubs’ bullpen in the NL Division Series and Championship Series last fall but was not on their World Series roster. He received interest during the offseason as a reliever but signed with San Diego on a one-year, $1.75 million deal to try to win a rotation spot.
Cahill allowed just a walk in two innings of work and struck out three.
ODDS AND ENDS: Alejandro De Aza, battling to make the A’s roster as a fifth outfielder, played center field and went 1-for-3 from the leadoff spot. … Top prospect Franklin Barreto started at second base and went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts. He reached base on a hit-by-pitch but was thrown out trying to steal second. … Cactus League fever hasn’t exactly caught hold yet, as Wednesday’s game drew a measly crowd of 1,864 fans. Poor weather surely has played a part in some low attendance figures so far, but crowds typically pick up as it gets deeper into March anyway.