OAKLAND — Wearing a pained expression and a black Vanderbilt baseball shirt in front of his locker following his latest start, the Athletics’ Sonny Gray doesn’t look or sound like a pitcher who just threw another gem and owns the lowest earned run average in the American League.
“They got a couple of big hits and boom — it’s 2-0,” Gray said after a 2-1 setback versus the Texas Rangers. “And that was just a little bit too much for us.”
In a season in which the A’s are wallowing in the cellar in the American League West, Gray hasn’t been just a rare bright spot. He has also asserted himself as one of the early front-runners in the Cy Young Award race thanks to his 1.74 ERA and his .196 opponents batting average.
“Every day he pitches, we’re either in it or winning it,” Manager Bob Melvin said of his ace right-hander.
As the 25-year-old Gray cruises along in his second full season in the big leagues, he has been remarkably consistent. Against Texas, Gray gave up just two earned runs. It marked the 11th time in 13 outings that he had limited the opposition to two earned runs or less.
“He gave up two runs,” Melvin said. “If that’s a bad game, I’ll take it every day.”
The key to Gray’s remarkable consistency isn’t just his 12-to-6 curveball or his electric fastball. It’s what goes on between his ears.
“For me, it’s mental,” catcher Stephen Vogt said when asked to explain Gray’s rise from exciting young prospect to that of a staff anchor.
According to Vogt, Gray is one of those rare starters who can dominate a ballgame even when he doesn’t have all of best stuff.
“I think you look at any of the top pitchers in baseball, they’re like that,” Vogt said. “I think they say 25 percent of the time a pitcher’s going to have his stuff. It’s all about how you pitch the other 75 percent of the time and that’s what separates the top pitchers from the mid-level pitchers. And he’s no different.”
As Gray himself admitted, that’s what he had to do against the Rangers at the O.co Coliseum last Tuesday.
“It’s been better than it was,” Gray said of his bread-and-butter curveball. “I felt like at times it was flat a little bit.”
Even though his hook wasn’t breaking exactly like it was supposed to, Gray found a way to scatter eight hits across six innings of work and keep his team in the game.
On the nights that Gray’s curve is working like it’s supposed to, the opposition is in major trouble.
“He’s real good,” Vogt said. “I’ve caught some good breaking balls, but Sonny’s definitely got one of the sharpest.”