It was the pitcher Red Sox fans want (Sonny Gray) vs. the pitcher they don’t want (Clay Buchholz).
Both pitchers have had head-scratching seasons. And both were gone by the end of the fifth inning Monday night.
Gray continued to struggle as he squandered a 4-1 lead, while Buchholz, who had pitched seven strong innings in beating the White Sox in his previous start, gave up a run in each of his first three innings and lasted only five.
Gray’s ERA ballooned to 6.00 after allowing eight hits and seven runs in 3⅔ innings. He simply hasn’t looked like the dominant Gray of the past two seasons. His velocity is slightly down. According to BrooksBaseball.net, his average four-seam fastball velocity through six starts was 93.1 miles per hour, down from 94.3 through six starts in 2015.
And, on Monday, he was unable to put away hitters. That’s precisely the problem fellow Vanderbilt alumnus David Price has had for the Red Sox, and certainly a problem Buchholz has had in many of his starts.
Major league sources indicated the Red Sox made a few overtures for Gray the past two years. After all, Boston has the prospects that teams would want for an established veteran. But the A’s have rejected those inquiries. How long they’ll continue to do so could depend on 1) how the A’s survive the season; and 2) the notion that Gray is controllable for a while, so why deal him now?
Right now, it looks good for the Red Sox that the A’s rejected the overtures.
Gray, who allowed seven earned runs for the second straight start, said, “I’ve had a bad game, two bad games, but this is kind of three in a row now. They’ve been pretty pathetic, but they’ve been very bad. So it’s definitely a struggle and I’m going to have to start getting some people out here soon.”
If the Red Sox stay in the hunt, however, and Gray turns his season around, you can bet that the 26-year-old righthander will be in their thoughts at the trade deadline. And the Red Sox wouldn’t be the only team with quality minor league resources the A’s could haggle with. The Dodgers have shown interest as well.
Buchholz, who was booed during his outing, fell into a 3-0 hole after just two innings. The A’s entered the game with a .293 on-base percentage, lowest in the American League, though they had hit .290 and scored 21 runs over their previous four games. They also had drawn the third-fewest walks (78) and hit the fourth-fewest doubles (41) in the AL.
So Buchholz wasn’t facing a hitting machine. And any momentum he carried over from his last start disappeared pretty quickly. Oakland scored once in the first, twice in the second, and once in the third. The Red Sox offense then bailed him out with six runs off Gray in the fourth to take a 7-4 lead.
“I felt I got better as game went on,” Buchholz said. “Nobody likes to give up runs in the first inning. You’re starting from behind and you don’t want to do that.”
A bad omen for Buchholz was walking the first batter he faced, Coco Crisp. Jed Lowrie then singled Crisp to third and Crisp scored on a ground out by Josh Reddick, the third straight ex-Red Sox at the top of the A’s order. Buchholz got out of the inning with a pair of line outs.
In the second inning, Buchholz allowed an infield single to Danny Valencia that an outstretched Dustin Pedroia couldn’t quite squeeze, Yonder Alonso doubled off the Wall to place runners on second and third, and Josh Phegley drove in Oakland’s second run on a ground out. Buchholz looked like he might escape more harm, but with two outs, Crisp singled to right to make it a 3-0 game.
Then in the third, Khris Davis smashed his seventh home run, a solo shot into the Monster seats, making it 4-1.
Gray really has had an uneven season. In his first three starts he was 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA, typical Gray, but in his last three starts prior to Monday, he was 1-2 with a 7.88 ERA and opponents hit .302 against him.
Gray allowed his first run in the second inning when Travis Shaw hit a one-out double, advanced to third on Brock Holt’s ground out to shortstop, and scored on Gray’s wild pitch.
Gray completely unraveled in the fourth, allowing six hits, including a two-run single by Jackie Bradley Jr., RBI doubles by Shaw and Mookie Betts, and an RBI single by Pedroia. Gray threw two wild pitches in the first four innings.
When he walked Xander Bogaerts with two outs, Oakland manager Bob Melvin had seen enough.
Buchholz allowed a hit and a walk over his final two innings, but no runs. He had thrown 87 pitches through five and John Farrell had seen enough and wanted to get his bullpen some work.
Buchholz left the game with a 5.90 ERA, up from 5.71 to start the day.
Buchholz threw 41 fastballs Monday, generating no swings and misses. Over his last four starts including Monday, Buchholz has thrown 152 fastballs and gotten just two swings and misses (1.3 percent).
Asked whether he was OK with coming out after five innings, Buchholz said, “Not really. I didn’t really know what was going on. I thought I got traded or something. I would have liked to go back out for the sixth, but I’m not the manager.”
Red Sox fans are no doubt down on Buchholz, but do they still want Gray?Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.