Sonny Gray debunks need for playoff experience with stellar outing

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The ALDS Game 2 narrative between the Tigers and Athletics involved the experienced ace in Justin Verlander and the rookie in Sonny Gray. Verlander, with over 70 post-season innings under his belt, would be calm, cool, and collected with all the TV cameras pointed in his direction. Gray, who spent most of the year with Triple-A Sacramento, would be  in the pressure cooker for the first time in his career, certainly a burden for a 23-year-old.

Gray flipped that narrative on its back with eight stellar innings of work against the American League’s #2 offense, averaging just under five runs per game during the regular season. He was rarely in trouble, and when he was, he nearly perfectly executed his pitches — a mid-90’s fastball and a dazzling curve — to escape unharmed. The right-hander held the Tigers to four hits, all singles while walking two and striking out nine, matching the seasoned Verlander pitch-for-pitch in the most important game of his career.

The pitch of the game for Gray came in the bottom of the eighth. Don Kelly led off the inning with an infield single, then moved to second base on a ground out by Jose Iglesias. With the winning run in scoring position and Austin Jackson (who hit .300 last year) at the plate, Gray fed him a steady diet of curve balls. Jackson saw six of them consecutively, falling behind 0-2, working it back to 3-2, and ultimately striking out looking. Torii Hunter then popped up to end the eighth inning, Gray’s final frame before Athletics manager Bob Melvin turned to his bullpen.

The Athletics needed Gray to be exactly this good because Verlander was on point from the start. Verlander did not allow a base runner until the fifth inning after recording two outs. Like Gray, Verlander did not surrender an extra-base hit. He allowed four hits, walked one, and struck out 11 batters in seven innings of outstanding pitching.

Had Gray relented even once — and no one would have blamed him if he did — the Athletics would have been feeling the pressure, just like they did from the start of Game 1 against Max Scherzer. And they might not have had the chance to walk off in the bottom of the ninth, the way they did thanks to Stephen Vogt’s bases loaded, no out, walk-off RBI single against Rick Porcello. Thanks to Gray, the Athletics are ecstatic as they board their plane en route to Detroit for Game 3 on Monday.

Bud Norris exits outing with right knee soreness

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Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.

While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.

 

When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.

Video: Max Scherzer sets record with 13-strikeout outing

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Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.

More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.

Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)

It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.