MINNEAPOLIS – For a pitcher who came out on the pavement end of a 9-1 beating, Sonny Gray seemed relatively unperturbed Tuesday night.
Gray was making his first start of the season after missing a month with a right shoulder strain, and the shoulder wasn’t a problem, so that was good.
Pitch selection could have been better, though. In the space of three hitters in the third inning Gray allowed a walk and two homers, and that was it. Three runs were in and undefeated (5-0) Erwin Santana, who dominates the A’s like few others, would not need more.
The other six runs were little more than window dressing, although the Twins will mark this as the night they hit six home runs in a game.
“If I could take a couple of pitches back, obviously I would,” Gray said. “Those just happened to be the difference in the game. I threw the ball OK, they jumped on a couple of pitches early and hit them for homers.”
Gray’s evening began well enough. He had a 1-2-3 first inning and only a two-out walk marred his second inning.
In return from DL, #Athletics Sonny Gray felt OK about the way he threw beyond his being unable to close out the third inning. pic.twitter.com/RGOZETcKjw
— John Hickey (@JHickey3) May 3, 2017
He got the first two outs of the third inning, too, before Brian Dozier turned the game around. The All-Star second baseman jumped on a 1-0 slider and hammered it out to left field. One walk later, Miguel Sano caught a fastball that carried into the restaurant in center field, just the second ball ever to do that.
“When I get two quick outs in an inning, I’ve got to be better than that,” Gray said. “Even after giving up the first homer, you really can’t walk the next guy and bring that guy (Sano) to the plate. Three batters in a row got me, and that was the difference in the game. I’ve got to get up and perform.”
Tuesday was also the return of center fielder Rajai Davis, who’d missed 10 days on the disabled list because of a left hamstring issue. He, like most of the A’s went hitless against Santana, although he did single in his final at-bat off reliever Tyler Duffey. Davis, like the rest of the A’s, was happy just to see Gray back on the mound.
“I thought he was throwing strikes,” the center fielder said of Gray. “They just put some good swings on them.”
Four of the six homers went out to center, and none of them was particularly close to the wall, although Davis kept trying to scale it as if were K-2.
“The wall wasn’t helping me out,” Davis said. “They have slick stuff on it.”
Oakland manager Bob Melvin liked what he saw from Gray for the most part.
“He was sailing along really good, pitching the way we’ve seen him pitch before,” Melvin said. “He had command of all his pitches. He had good velocity and good movement. You look overall at the numbers, but when you look inside and you look at the rest of the internal stuff, and it’s just a matter of a couple of pitches.”
The loss was the seventh in the last eight games for the 11-15 A’s since a five-game winning streak came to an end. Oakland now finds itself just one-half game out of the American League West cellar.
Santana always dominates the A’s, as his 17-7 career record against Oakland suggests. This year, he’s doing it against everybody else, too. He’s off to a 5-0 start with a staggeringly good 0.66 ERA. He hasn’t allowed the A’s a run in his last 16 innings against them.
A’s reliever Cesar Valdez had a night not to remember. He pitched the seventh inning for Oakland and was tagged for four runs on three homers and a couple of singles. His ERA jumped from 6.48 to 9.64.
The Oakland run came on a Yonder Alonso homer, his fifth of the year after having just seven all of last season. It came in the ninth inning, and while it prevented a shutout, the A’s have now scored two or fewer runs in six of their last eight games.
Third baseman Trevor Plouffe was awash in media in the A’s dugout about 2½ hours before the game. It was his first visit to Target Field not wearing a Twins uniform. Melvin found some humor in it. “Was the parade today? Or will it be tomorrow for him?” Melvin said with a laugh.
Plouffe said part of his adjustment was wearing 3 with the A’s after wearing 24 with the Twins. He would have taken 24, but Rickey Henderson’s number has been retired in Oakland. “24 wasn’t available in Oakland, and rightfully so,” Plouffe said. He went on to say that because it was his number as a kid and because 3 was the number that Hall of Fame third/first baseman Harmon Killebrew wore, it was the right choice.
Disabled reliever John Axford joined the club Monday and threw his first bullpen session Tuesday. If all goes well, and Axford said his right shoulder strain wasn’t a problem anymore, he will have another bullpen throw Thursday. He could be back within a couple of week. “It takes a little while once they started throwing bullpens,” Melvin said.
Disabled starters Daniel Mengden and Chris Bassitt will throw this week as they continue their rehabs. Mengden will throw three innings and 45 pitches Wednesday at the A’s extended spring training facility in Mesa, Ariz., while Bassitt will throw four innings and 60 pitches with Class-A Stockton.
It appears that Sean Manaea, who went on the DL Sunday, will only miss one start and could be back in the rotation as soon as his 10 days on the disabled list are up this weekend when the Tigers visit Oakland. “He’s feeling pretty good,” Melvin said, saying a bullpen would take place in the next day or two.