Before spring training had ended, originally-named A’s opening-day starter Sonny Gray announced he would miss the first three weeks of the regular season. Kendall Graveman ultimately received responsibilities.
He recently finished his rehab assignment with the Class-A Affiliate Stockton Ports and felt great about his outing, telling the Chronicle he didn’t have any physical limitations.
He tossed 47 pitches in 5 scoreless innings and didn’t issue a walk. He also pitched for Triple-A Nashville on a 75-pitch assignment, where he finished with 7 strikeouts with no walks in 6 shutdown innings.
On Monday, he was officially activated from the DL. So what should we be expecting from the 27-year-old when he makes his 2017 debut and beyond?
Once major trade bait, Gray was in Cy Young talks in 2015 after his first All-Star season. However, he began struggling in a bad way last season.
His 2016 numbers weren’t pretty; he nearly doubled his previous ERA (5.69) with 94 strikeouts in 117 innings. His swing-and-miss numbers dropped by 1.7-percent — a huge drop. So we know there were many elements that were causing him to struggle.
He’s known for being a groundball pitcher, posting a career 54.1 percent groundball rate. But if you’re going to be a successful groundball-pitcher, you’re going to need a solid defense behind you, and last season, the A’s were one of the worst defenses in baseball. While you can’t peg that defense for all of Gray’s struggles, his 3.45 FIP shows at least some of the damage against him was out of his control.
We have the negative out of the way, so let’s take a look at some of the positives going for Gray in regards to his return.
The former first-round draft pick had his moments during the spring before his injury, even earning a Spring Training Player-of-the-Day write-up at the beginning of March, when he tossed 2 scoreless innings against the Padres while allowing just 1 hit and looking good in the process.
While the spring-training numbers aren’t all that important or predictive, he was concentrating on making himself a better pitcher. This may sound like a broken record, but Gray was particularly disappointed he wasn’t participating in the World Baseball Classic due to an insurance issue, but ultimately chose to use that to his advantage. He was able to focus on his craft a bit more.
There is absolutely no reason why Gray can’t come back a similar pitcher to what he was during his All-Star year. Assuming he remains healthy, there’s no reason he can’t return to old form, much like another struggling AL West pitcher from 2016 — Dallas Keuchel — is doing right now in Houston.
“A lat strain could be really bad,” explains Will Carroll of @injuryexpert. “It’s a very involved injury and although it heals well, it’s normally a sign something else is wrong and there could be an underlying shoulder issue.”
So while he may come back strong, which from his last few outings this spring and his demeanor seems like a possibility, at this point the hope is mainly that Gray can remain healthy; the rest should come.
By Jessica Kleinschmidt