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Gray will start opener with Kazmir, Chavez, Straily, Milone also in rotation; Cook, Rodriguez, Gentry start season on DL

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

Sonny Gray got the job that just about everyone but Sonny Gray expected him to get when A’s manager Bob Melvin named him the opening day starter.

Gray will be followed in the rotation by Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone.

The opening day start was expected originally to go to Jarrod Parker, but the competition opened up when it was learned that Parker will miss the season and undergo tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery.

Even with Parker, Gray was considered a contender for the opening day assignment by manager Bob Melvin, who isn’t afraid of putting the 24-year-old in the spotlight.

Last year in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, Melvin went with Gray over 18-game winner Bartolo Colon, and while the A’s lost that game, it wasn’t because Gray didn’t pitch well.

“He’s very quickly become one of those guys,’’ Melvin said of Gray, who was 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA after his promotion to the big leagues last year and then pitched eight shutout innings in Game 2 of the playoffs against Detroit before taking the 3-0 loss in Game 5.

“It was a hard call last year,’’ Melvin said. “But he’s always shown poise, always been a complete competitor.’’

Gray said that while he’d read about the opening day possibility, he didn’t try to count days to figure out if he was on path to that and “I just found out today,’’ he said.

Melvin said that Gray had been used to the pressure being a “Friday night guy,’’ at Vanderbilt, meaning Gray would start the first game of every series while playing his college ball at Vandy.

And Gray liked the analogy.

“It was always the game that would set the tone for the series, like this will,’’ Gray said. “You’d go into Saturday either 1-0 or 0-1, so Friday was a big, big game.’’

Melvin said the other starters fell into line behind Gray and Kazmir, who was the other candidate to go in the opener. Chavez and Milone had to be added to the rotation when Parker and A.J. Griffin exited, so “we’re comfortable with any of those guys’’ pitching anywhere in the rotation, the manager said.

But the A’s aren’t comfortable with their starters getting into games against AL West competition this late in the spring, which is why Josh Lindblom starts Sunday against the Mariners in Peoria while Chavez starts against the Cubs in Phoenix. And Straily pitches in a minor league game Monday rather than face the Rangers in Surprise.

 

–Melvin also announced that relievers Ryan Cook and Fernando Rodriguez and outfielder Craig Gentry will go on the disabled list to start the season and will now only participate in minor league games.

By avoiding big league games for the rest of the spring, those three will be eligible to come off the DL on Saturday, April 5 having missed only the first five games of the season.

Cook came into spring training with shoulder discomfort, Rodriguez had Tommy John surgery about a year ago and Gentry has been battling lower back pain. All three are feeling good now, and the extra five days may be enough to have them ready to go.

“They will continue to play in minor league games so that we can backdate them,’’ Melvin said, say the three were put on the DL retroactively under the rules so as to make them available as quickly as possible.

Cook has been pushing hard to get in position to be on the opening day roster and said he was “very disappointed,’’ not to be on the opening day roster.

“At the same time, I trust in the process,’’ Cook said. “It’s disappointing given the way I’m feeling now, but it’s not my call, and I truly feel they have my trust. I’ll pitch in the minor league games and be ready to go when it’s my time.’’

The DL moves are particularly good news for two players – Rodriguez and outfielder Sam Fuld.

Rodriguez has pitched well and looked strong all spring, but the A’s were thinking he wouldn’t be ready for maybe a month or more. Now it seems as if they believe he could help them in April.

As for Fuld, he almost certainly makes the opening day roster in place of Gentry. There is an out in his contract allowing him to becoming a free agent if he isn’t on the opening day roster, so, at least for the moment, the A’s will be able to keep him, even if they have to send him down after Gentry is ready.

 

–The A’s are expected to make their final cuts of the spring after Sunday’s split squad games. Oakland plays the Cubs at Phoenix Muni while also playing the Mariners in Peoria.

John Hickey

Returning to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.