BOSTON – When even Sonny Gray can’t hold a lead, the A’s rotation is officially in trouble.
In his previous two-plus seasons with Oakland, Gray was the man Oakland turned to to end a run of poor pitching, to get the team back on track. On Monday in Boston, however, the A’s ace was handed a three-run lead and he unraveled in the fourth inning, allowing seven runs in all in the Red Sox’s eventual 14-7 victory.
Add injury: Second baseman Jed Lowrie was on crutches after fouling a ball off his right foot and said, “It hurts like hell,” after coming back from X-rays. John Axford needed X-rays after taking a line drive off his left foot, and third baseman Danny Valencia left with hamstring tightness in the second inning. Axford’s X-rays were negative and Valencia said he’s OK, probably day-to-day.
Gray is perfectly healthy – he said one positive is that he feels great physically – and, he is throwing just as hard as he usually does. But over his past three starts, the 2015 All-Star has allowed 18 runs, all earned, in 12 2/3 innings.
“Everything is up and over the middle of the plate constantly,” Gray said. “It’s just not going well.”
Gray can’t ever remember having such a poor three-game stretch. “This is three in a row now that haven’t just been pretty pathetic, but it’s been very bad,” he said. “It’s been a stuggle and I’m going to have to start getting some people out here soon.”
Manager Bob Melvin confirmed there are no health issues for Gray and said, “Everyone struggles ove the course their career and he’s going to figure out a way out of it. .. As good as he’s been and as consistent as he’s been, it’s foreign territory for him. This might be the first time in his life he’s had to deal with it.”
Seven starts into the season, Gray has an ERA of 6.00. One American League scout at Monday’s game said that Gray’s stuff is flat, he’s making mistakes up in the zone and he appears to be having trouble establishing an out pitch. “His feel and command is scattered,” the scout said after Gray gave up six hits, a walk and six runs in the fourth inning. “The quality is lacking. He looks more like a No. 3 starter.”
The A’s rotation is in as bad a state as it’s been in in years with the possible exception of the end of last season when every regular starter either had been traded or was injured. At least Rich Hill is performing well right now, but otherwise, the club is dealing with underperformance (Gray, Kendall Graveman) or Tommy John surgery (Felix Doubront, Chris Bassitt). Over the past 16 games, Oakland starters have allowed 68 runs in 80 1/3 innings.
“I think it’s pretty contagious, here lately we’re not even making it into the fifth inning numerous times,” Gray said. “It’s something we’re going to have to figure out soon.”
Rookie Sean Manaea, called up when Bassitt was injured, is making his third start Tuesday but has yet to find his stride, putting up a 7.20 ERA. Jesse Hahn, who had such a rough spring he started the season in the minors, made one nice start and one poor one, is back at Triple-A Nashville. Henderson Alvarez, a 2014 All-Star, is expected to come off the DL on the next homestand after rehabbing from shoulder surgery.
With the A’s bullpen taxed after a doubleheader Saturday and Gray’s short outing, Andrew Triggs is a strong bet to be recalled Tuesday, and it’s possible the team will consider even more reinforcements.
Axford, so excellent in a set-up role for Oakland, was struck on the left foot by a line drive by Xander Bogaerts in the sixth, but he remained in the game and issued his first two walks of the season, then gave up a grand slam to Jackie Bradley, Jr.
Khris Davis ended a 0-for-13 streak with a shot into the seats above the Green Monster in left in the third inning. Davis, who smacked 27 homers in 392 at-bats last year, has homered seven times in his past 17 games.
Josh Reddick’s franchise-record-tying string of eight hits in eight at-bats ended with his RBI groundout in the first. Josh Phegley had an RBI grounder in the second and Coco Crisp drove in a run that inning with a base hit off Clay Buchholz. Reddick singled in a run in the ninth, and Davis doubled in another.
Valencia, who missed 15 days in with a left hamstring strain, beat out an infield single to lead off the second inning, but he pulled up a little gingerly and manager Bob Melvin and trainer Nick Paparesta came out to check on him.
Valencia, the A’s cleanup hitter the first few weeks of the season, is batting .311. Should he need to return to the DL, Tyler Ladendorf likely would be recalled from Triple-A Nashville. Typically, repeat hamstring injuries take longer to heal than the initial injury.