Sonny Gray

Moral victories aren’t enough for the A’s right now


OAKLAND – The A’s pulled together one of those mad, late-inning rallies Tuesday that they seem to have a trademark on.

It was a commendable effort that came up just short in a 6-5 loss to the Seattle Mariners. And while the A’s always score points for the heart they show in battling back, the fact of the matter is that the hourglass is running low on this team.

The A’s aren’t going to win many games when their starting pitcher gives up six runs and they don’t advance a runner past first base until the eighth inning.

[RECAP: Gray roughed up, Mariners edge A’s 6-5]

This is still a team that’s searching for ways to score runs consistently, especially against left-handed starters, which means they need their starting pitching to be air-tight. Sonny Gray, so terrific against the Mariners in five previous starts against them, was hardly his sharpest. He gave up a season high-tying six earned runs on seven hits over five innings, though he had the backing of his manager after Tuesday’s game.

“I thought he pitched better than the numbers would suggest,” Bob Melvin said.

You can dissect Gray’s outing and explain away much of the bad. Austin Jackson hardly crushed his two-run single that got Seattle on the board in the third, but that rally began with Gray issuing two walks to begin the inning.

In the fourth, Endy Chavez hit a chopper up the middle that leaked past a drawn-in infield, but Gray also allowed Kendrys Morales’ single and Logan Morrison’s hard-hit double to set the table for Chavez’s hit.

Then Kyle Seager’s two-run homer in the fifth came on a 1-0 fastball that Gray was trying to spot inside but caught too much of the plate. That made it 6-0, which ended up being too much for the A’s to overcome – barely.

Gray was asked if he thought he pitched better than the numbers indicated.

“I don’t know,” he said. “The final numbers are all that matters.”

Mariners left-hander James Paxton was dialed in Tuesday, and he probably would have been a handful for any lineup. But the A’s struggles against him – just four hits over 7 2/3 innings – once again highlighted one of their biggest weaknesses.

This is a team that struggles mightily against left-handed starting pitching. The A’s are hitting just .240 against lefties overall this season, lowest in the American League, and they’re 4-10 against lefty starters since the All-Star break.

“Look at the quality of starters … any American League left-hander, especially here in the West, they’re not going to be a slouch,” A’s catcher Derek Norris said. “You look at the guy tonight, he’s running up to 99 mph on our (stadium) gun, which is slow. I wouldn’t focus too much on the negatives but focus on the positives that we were one swing away from winning the ballgame tonight.”

Very true, but it doesn’t excuse the six-run deficit the A’s had to overcome in the first place. Or plays such as Chavez’s double, a slow-hit ball to center where neither shortstop Jed Lowrie nor second baseman Alberto Callaspo covered second base, and Chavez wound up with a double.

The A’s lost a chance to gain a game on the first-place Los Angeles Angels, who lost at Houston. And considering they’re facing a 4 ½ game deficit with just 24 left to play, every missed opportunity to gain ground is magnified.

They get their chance to bounce back behind Jon Lester on Wednesday afternoon. Taking the mound for Seattle? Cy Young candidate Felix Hernandez.

The runs won’t be easy to come by against him either, and the A’s won’t be picky about how they generate them. When the hourglass is running low, wins are wins no matter how they come.

Mariners interested in free agent outfielder Nori Aoki

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New Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has kept pretty busy in his short time on the job and Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports that free agent outfielder Nori Aoki could be his next target. The club recently pursued a trade for Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna, but the asking price has them looking at alternatives.

Aoki, who turns 34 in January, has hit .287 with a .353 on-base percentage over four seasons since coming over from Japan. He was having a fine season with the Giants this year prior to being shut down in September with lingering concussion symptoms.

The Giants decided against picking up Aoki’s $5.5 million club option for 2016 earlier this month, but he should still do pretty well for himself this winter assuming he’s feeling good.

Report: Johnny Cueto is believed to be looking for a $140-160 million deal

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It was reported Sunday that free agent right-hander Johnny Cueto had turned down a six-year, $120 million contract from the Diamondbacks. He’s hoping to land a bigger deal this winter and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick has heard some chatter about what he’s looking for.

Jordan Zimmermann finalized a five-year, $110 million contract with the Tigers today, which works out to $22 million per season. Arizona’s offer to Cueto checked in at $20 million per season. A six-year offer to Cueto at the same AAV (average annual value) as Zimmermann would put him at $132 million, which is still a little shy of the figure stated by Crasnick. Of course, Cueto owns a 2.71 ERA (145 ERA+) over the last five seasons compared to a 3.14 ERA (123 ERA+) by Zimmermann during that same timespan, so there’s a case to be made that he should get more. Still, he’s the clear No. 3 starter on the market behind David Price and Zack Greinke.

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, and Cubs are among the other teams who have interest in Cueto. One variable in his favor is that he is not attached to draft pick compensation, as he was traded from the Reds to the Royals during the 2015 season.

Report: Around 20 teams have contacted the Braves about Shelby Miller

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The rebuilding Braves have already been active on the trade market and they might not be done, as CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that right-hander Shelby Miller has been a very popular name. In fact, around 20 teams have checked in.

Nothing is considered close and the Braves have set a very high asking price, mostly centered around offense. They asked for right-hander Luis Severino in talks with the Yankees and would expect outfielder Marcell Ozuna among other pieces from the Marlins. The Diamondbacks and Giants are among the other interested clubs.

Miller is under team control through 2018, so there’s not necessarily a sense of urgency to move him, but anything is possible with the way the Braves are doing things right now. The 25-year-old is coming off a year where he went 6-17, but that was about really rotten luck more than anything else, as he had a fine 3.02 ERA and 171/73 K/BB ratio over 205 1/3 innings. The Braves gave him the worst run support of any starter in the majors.

Mets expected to tender a contract to Jenrry Mejia

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 12:  Jenrry Mejia #58 of the New York Mets reacts as he walks off the field after getting the final out of the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field on July 12, 2015 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Jenrry Mejia appeared in just seven games this past season due to a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs, but Adam Rubin of ESPN New York reports that the Mets are expected to tender him a contract for 2016.

While the Mets were vocal about their disappointment in Mejia’s actions, it makes sense to keep him around as an option. Had he played a full season in 2015, he would have earned $2.595 million. He’s arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter and figures to receive a contract similar to his 2015 figure, but he’ll only be paid for the games he plays. He still has 100 games to serve on his second PED suspension, which means that he’ll only be paid for 62 games in 2016. This likely puts his salary closer to $1 million, which is a small price to pay for someone who could prove useful during the second half and beyond. He also won’t count toward the team’s 40-man roster until he’s active.

Mejia, who turned 26 in October, owns a 3.68 ERA in the majors and saved 28 games for the Mets in 2014. He’s currently pitching as a starter in the Dominican Winter League.