Oakland Athletics Recap: Sonny Gray Shines In Cactus League Debut

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Mar 4, 2016; Salt River Pima-Maricopa, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics left fielder Sam Fuld (23) hits in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks during a spring training game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 4, 2016; Salt River Pima-Maricopa, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics left fielder Sam Fuld (23) hits in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks during a spring training game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports /
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Recap: Sonny Gray Shines in Cactus League Debut, Behind Red-Hot Oakland Athletics’ Offense

It was business as usual for Sonny Gray, who made his Cactus League debut on Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox. Gray pitched three innings, allowing three hits and a walk en route to one earned run. He also struck out four batters, including the first two of the game.

The Highlights

Most of the damage against Oakland’s ace came in the second frame, when he allowed a leadoff double to Todd Frazier, followed by back-to-back singles to Melky Cabrera and Avisail Garcia. Frazier scored on Garcia’s hit, but Gray escaped without further damage.

Despite the much-anticipated debut of the A’s best pitcher, it was the offense that was the real story on Wednesday. The A’s picked up an early lead against Chicago starter Jacob Turner and never looked back. After the first three batters of the game reached, third baseman Danny Valencia singled in a run to put the A’s ahead. Two more runs scored in the second, on Josh Reddick‘s RBI triple, giving the Athletics’ a 3-1 advantage.

The A’s were relentless for the rest of the game. In the third inning, Josh Phegley, Joey Wendle and Sam Fuld each knocked in a run, and Stephen Vogt added one of his own in the fourth inning. Andrew Lambo and Matt Chapman hit their second home runs of the spring, and Matt Olson added an RBI on a sacrifice fly.  Jake Smolinski also added a run in the seventh inning.

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On the mound, Felix Doubrant pitched extremely well: three scoreless innings, in which he allowed just one hit and struck out six. Sean Doolittle struck out the side in his perfect inning of work, but the younger Doolittle struggled in his outing. Ryan Doolittle made an error and gave up a pair of walks and a hit, allowing two runs. It wasn’t entirely his fault, though – Max Muncy made an error of his own. R.J. Alvarez finished the game with a scoreless ninth inning.

The Now

All of the starters reached base at least once, and excluding Billy Butler, each starter had at least one hit. That doesn’t mean Billy Butler is a lost cause for 2016 already. Butler has had 11 at-bats this season, with four walks and a hit as a result. While his average is not good in that small sample size, he does have an on-base percentage of .455. That’s not so shabby for a veteran in Spring Training.

Vogt was the designated hitter again on Wednesday, but it was nice to see him hitting well, given that it’s been less than two months since he underwent elbow surgery. He went 2-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and a run scored, bringing his small-sample-size average up to .556 this spring. Overall, it seems like he’s every bit as on track as the front office promised he would be.

Lambo is really making a case for himself as the Athletics’ fourth outfielder. Spring Training results are by no means a predictor of the season to come, but Lambo has made a very convincing case for himself in the first week. It’s hard to imagine how the A’s would find a roster spot for him, given the crowded situation in the outfield, but if he continues to hit as well as he has so far, they may be forced to do so. In other outfield news, Fuld was both caught stealing and picked off during Wednesday’s game.

The Future

Wendle had a nice day at the plate, going 1-for-2 with a walk, scoring a pair of runs, and knocking in an RBI.  If Wendle is going to reach the big leagues with the A’s, he needs to do it this year. There are several talented shortstops coming up in the system behind him, and he needs to separate himself from that pack of prospects if he wants to earn a call-up this season.

So far, Ryan Doolittle has not had a particularly strong camp. While he’s still young, he has yet to have a moment that makes him stand out from the other relievers in camp. Ryan Dull had his escape from a bases-loaded jam earlier in the week, which really showcased his composure on the mound. When Doolittle found himself in that same type of situation on Wednesday, he was unable to work out of it.

Next: The Battle for an Outfield Position

Tomorrow, the Oakland Athletics will take on the Los Angeles Dodgers at Hohokam Stadium at 12:05 PST. Both Rich Hill and Sean Manaea are scheduled to pitch.

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