Game 5 start in ALCS vs. Tigers put Gray in line for opener

Sonny Gray is the last  man standing in drive to start opener for the A's

Sonny Gray is the last man standing in drive to start opener for the A’s March 31.

Nothing is official, but the A’s have an opening day starting pitcher.

His name is Sonny Gray.

The 24-year-old, with just 10 big league starts to his name, was being considered for the job all along, but it seemed likely the call would go to Jarrod Parker or, perhaps, newcomer Scott Kazmir.

Parker is out for the season with the news that he needs a second Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow and forearm.

As for Kazmir, he was scratched from his start Monday because of triceps pain. He was pain-free Tuesday and wanted to pitch, but the A’s have decided that he’ll throw a bullpen session, probably Wednesday, then return to the starting rotation Saturday.

That rules him out for the opener, because to get to March 31 against the Indians, he’d either have to pitch on long rest or on short rest. The A’s aren’t going to have him do that for the sake of one game, so that leaves Gray to pitch the opener and Kazmir to follow him in Game 2 against Cleveland, the team for which he pitched last year.

Gray hasn’t had a particularly good spring so far. He owns a 6.30 ERA and has allowed 14 hits and four walks in 10 innings. And manager Bob Melvin said he wouldn’t be making an official call on an opening day starter until later in the week.

But the A’s sent a signal last October that he would be an opening day starter someday when they started him in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Tigers.

Bartolo Colon, who’d been an All-Star, had won 18 games and got Cy Young Award consideration, had pitched in Game 1 and was available to face the Tigers, who’d scored three off him in the first and held on for a 3-2 win.

But Gray threw eight shutout innings in Game 2, a game the A’s won in the ninth. And while Gray didn’t get credit for the win (Grant Balfour did), Gray got credit from the A’s for a terrific performance, and they chose the then 23-year-old over the 40-year-old Colon.

Gray threw three more shutout innings against the Tigers, then Miguel Cabrera launched a two-run homer in the fourth and that was about it as the Tigers claimed the ALCS title with a 3-0 win. Through it all, the A’s loved Gray’s moxie.

And now he’s in position to be the Game 1 starter.

John Hickey

A longtime baseball writer three years into in his second go-round covering to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.