Sonny Gray is starting fresh, ready to be Oakland’s reliable ace again.
His forgettable 2016 season is behind him, and that’s a positive thing considering last year began in frustration. Gray was scratched from his scheduled outing opening day because of food poisoning and never had the kind of season he envisioned as the leader of the rotation.
Two stints on the disabled list. Inconsistency when he was healthy. Struggling to a 5-11 record on the heels of back-to-back 14-win campaigns.
“It started off on a sour note with getting sick,” Gray said. “Again, it’s one of the things you went through and you experienced it and you know what it’s like. You’ve got to put it in the past and not look back at it. That’s the approach I’ve been taking.”
The right-hander, who last month received a $3,575,000 one-year contract to avoid arbitration, plans to pitch in the World Baseball Classic for the Americans to get himself back in a groove.
This winter, Gray worked with a personal trainer for the first time and appreciated the guidance through his regular arm care and maintenance routine.
He first spent a stint on the disabled list with a strain in his upper back before missing time down the stretch on the DL again with a strained right forearm. After getting hurt Aug. 6, the 27-year-old Gray didn’t pitch again until one inning of relief Sept. 28 at the Angels — an important step, according to the team, for him to go into the offseason on a positive note.
Gray, a 2015 All-Star, was limited to 22 starts and 117 innings.
General manager David Forst committed to improving the outfield, bringing in speedy base-stealing threat Rajai Davis to play center field and hit at the top of the batting order and Matt Joyce to play right field. Khris Davis returns in left after a career year in which he batted .247 for a second straight year and had his top totals with 42 home runs and 102 RBIs in his first season with the A’s. Davis received a huge raise in arbitration, earning a $5 million contract after making $524,500 in 2016.
At 69-93, Oakland finished last in the AL West for the second straight season, winning one more game than in 2015.
ROOKIES TO WATCH
Three young starting pitchers should have a chance to contribute again.
In a small sample size, Jharel Cotton showed why the A’s acquired him when they dealt Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to the Dodgers at the trade deadline last summer. The hard-throwing right-hander went 2-0 with a 2.15 ERA and 23 strikeouts to four walks in five starts.
Daniel Mengden went 2-9 in 14 starts, while Sean Manaea was 7-9 with a 3.86 ERA over 25 appearances and four starts in his first big league season.
Manager Bob Melvin has four legitimate closers to choose from and he isn’t ready to name any of them his No. 1 option for the ninth inning. Not yet.
There’s Sean Doolittle, Santiago Casilla — back with the club for a second stint following seven years across the bay with San Francisco — John Axford and Ryan Dull.
The A’s brought back three players who have been here before in Casilla, Davis and infielder Adam Rosales. Not to mention third base coach Chip Hale, back on Melvin’s staff after being fired as Diamondbacks manager.
Whether or not anyone on the outside has noticed Oakland’s upgrades, the A’s expect major strides — and having Davis and his speed should create havoc on the bases.
“We’re not afraid to be that underdog and sometimes being under the radar certainly to start the season might not be a bad thing,” Melvin said.