MESA, Ariz. — Sonny Gray is gearing up to pitch in the World Baseball Classic, but he wouldn’t join Team USA unless it advances to the second round of the international tournament.
Essentially, the A’s right-hander is on call. Always a fan of watching the WBC, Gray obviously has a vested interest in how this year’s event unfolds. In new rules for the WBC, now in its fourth installment, each team is allowed a pool of up to 10 “designated pitchers,” but only two of those pitchers can be on the staff in each round.
The Americans have eight designated pitchers on their squad, with Danny Duffy and Tanner Roark being chosen for the first round, which begins March 10 for Team USA. Gray is among the other six designated pitchers and would be lined up to join the squad for the second round, which begins March 14 in San Diego, if the Americans advance.
The tournament runs through March 22.
Gray said he’s adjusting his throwing schedule, but only slightly, to line up for potential second-round duty. His first bullpen session of camp was moved up from Friday to Wednesday, though Gray has thrown several times off the mound already in preparation for spring training.
Having pitched for Team USA over two summers while at Vanderbilt, Gray said representing the national team is a special experience.
“It’s cool. You get a bunch of these guys, when I was in college, who are some of the best players all throughout college, and you put them on the same team, it’s an instant bond with everyone. Once everyone puts the same jersey on, you become a team right away. You don’t need a lot of practice. When you put on the USA jersey, it just kind of happens.”
Four others on the A’s 40-man roster besides Gray are scheduled to play in the WBC — pitchers John Axford (Canada), Santiago Casilla (Dominican Republic) Liam Hendriks (Australia) and left fielder Khris Davis (Mexico).
A’s manager Bob Melvin said his staff has been in communication with Team USA pitching coach Jeff Jones on how best to handle Gray’s workload.
The right-hander is coming off a disappointing 2016 season in which he went 5-11 with a 5.69 ERA and spent two stints on the disabled list. But A’s catcher Stephen Vogt still views Gray as the guiding force that can be the veteran leader of what’s sure to be a young Oakland rotation overall.
“The thing was, the stuff was still there (last year), just not in the right part of the zone,” Vogt said. “And whether that’s health or confidence or a little bit of both, … when that kid’s on the mound healthy and confident, there’s no one in baseball I’d rather have pitching for us.”
In another WBC-related note, Eric Blum — who works on the A’s spring training clubhouse staff — will serve as the equipment manager for Team Israel, which qualified for its first WBC. He’ll depart for Seoul, South Korea on Sunday to join the team.