In for John Hickey …
If we know anything about Bob Melvin, it’s that he doesn’t like all-encompassing, big-picture evaluations of a happening in a particular game. Hence, I kind of knew the answer I’d get when I threw out the notion regarding Sonny Gray possibly changing the dynamic of the A’s starting staff and their season.
Maybe Melvin’s right. Let’s not put too much on the kid’s shoulders, even after a dramatic home debut in which he threw eight shutout innings with nine strikeouts and showed off electric stuff, not just a mid-90s fastball, but a killer curve and a decent changeup. Catcher Derek Norris said he also has a wicked slider, but there wasn’t even a need to pull it out for this Coliseum maiden performance.
We have to be reminded that Gray shut down the Astros, who might be hard-pressed to win the Pacific Coast League. If he does it against an AL East opponent or the Rangers, unbridled euphoria might be the order of the day for A’s fans.
What Gray does give the A’s is a signifcant rotation upgrade. Tommy Milone is a capable major league pitcher, but his replacement Gray is at another level skill-wise. He’s a guy who can potentially take you places, help you win championships, with the kind of raw talent he possesses. What’s promising is that he appears to have the level head and smarts to go with it, even at 23.
Check your enthusiasm and let’s see how Gray handles his first 5-6 starts, not just his first two. But you have to like what you see. And presuming the A’s can make the playoffs — certainly no sure thing with the Rangers in their own division and several teams in the East and Central in contention for the two wild cards — the A’s rotation could be in a position to really make some noise come October.
A little more seasoned Gray, a Jarrod Parker pitching like he is now, and Brett Anderson returning to form would give Oakland a formidable 1-2-3. They wouldn’t necessarily even need a Bartolo Colon bounce-back, although it would be good to have for the veteran presence he provides as well as finishing out the fine season he’s has had. But if not, you’ve got two good young guys in Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin as insurance. And then there’s always Milone, who is surely itching to get back in the mix.
In short, the A’s starting depth could be the difference against teams like Detroit and Tampa Bay, which also have superb starting pitching. If they can match the Tigers and Rays in that department, they can win the bullpen battles. Of course, they have to get there first.
I foresee Gray’s great outing giving juice to the entire team. You don’t win games much easier than the A’s did Wednesday. After the first, it was safe. After the third, it was over. Nice day for big Nate Freiman, who’s slowly showing he looks like he has what it takes to become a productive major leaguer. His third inning homer was actually the least impressive of his four hits. Shortening up and going the opposite way for his fourth, a single, showed that he’s more than just a guy who wants to hit it a country mile. He’s also shown himself quite capable at first base as well.
The wisps of panic that may have wafted after Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss dissipated significantly following Wednesday’s game. The A’s still have some hitting issues to sort out, but for my money, they’re right there with the other top teams in the A.L. If Anderson comes back strong, look out. Ultimately, I believe they still need Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes to catch a hot streak at the right time down the stretch, but there’s time for that.
Forty-two games to go. Hold on to your hats and revel in the ride.