by Joseph Hartsock / A’s Farm Arizona Correspondent
Today, I had the opportunity to watch Sonny Gray pitch in an extended spring training game against the Angels at the A’s minor league complex at Fitch Park in Mesa, Arizona. The 27-year-old Gray suffered a lat stain during spring training and, after being shut down, is now making progress in trying to get back to Oakland. Today, Gray was limited to three innings and about 15 pitches per inning, giving the A’s the ability to closely control and monitor his rehab. Gray had a rough first inning but seemed to calm down in the following two innings, and I believe it ended up being a great outing for a rehab start.
In the first inning, Gray was rocked for a home run by the Angels’ leadoff batter. The left-handed hitter seemed to be seeing the ball well out of Gray’s hand and was able to take the count full with a loud foul ball down the right-field line before hitting his solo shot to right-center field. The second batter saw seven pitches in his at-bat, mostly fastballs. This batter was overmatched by Gray and fouled off a few before ultimately striking out. Gray looked a little rough in the first inning. Sonny didn’t locate his fastball well, missing both high and low on some of his pitches. And because the A’s coaching staff was controlling his outing, they called the inning after facing only two batters.
The second inning went much more smoothly for Gray. He placed the ball well and mixed his pitches better, utilizing his fastball, changeup, slider and curve. In the inning, he didn’t allow a baserunner, struck out the first batter on three pitches and had the other two ground out to the infield. Even without a runner on base, Gray pitched from the stretch while facing the final batter of the inning and continued to maintain his smooth inning.
In Sonny’s third and final inning, he showed some of his athleticism when he came off the mound during a close play at first, calming some of my worries about his injury. The first batter Gray faced chopped a ball toward the second baseman. It wasn’t hit very hard and, with the second baseman playing back, Gray had to come off the mound make the play to his left. And with the first baseman rushing in, Gray had to race to first for the out. The next batter pushed a good breaking pitch to shallow right field to get on base. With a speedy runner now on first, Gray attempted to pick off the runner three times and nearly had the runner twice. I believe one was a bad call and the runner should have been called out. Gray walked his final batter of the day, and this was the same leadoff hitter who took him deep to start the game.
After the first inning, Gray looked great, mixing his pitches and over-matching most of the hitters. Besides the leadoff batter in the first inning, there were no solid hits off Gray, and he seemed to be calm and confident on the mound. Although the competition was nothing compared to big league hitters, it was a great step forward in his rehab.
After his outing, I was able to speak to Gray before he returned to the clubhouse. I asked him how he felt, and he said, “I feel great. It’s been eight months since I pitched in a game, so it felt great to be back out there.” He went on to talk about calming down in the second inning and continued to say how great it felt to be pitching in a game, while flashing a big smile on his face. Gray also told me that he would be heading to Stockton to pitch this Saturday and, if all goes well, he could be back with the big-league club in 11 days.
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