SEATTLE — He’s not quite Felix Hernandez, but Oakland Athletics’ starter Sonny Gray is no less flummoxing to the Mariners’ hitters as their ace happens to be to Oakland.
At least through two starts.
The 24-year-old rookie right-hander won his second straight start over Seattle (6-4), Saturday, as Oakland defeated the Mariners 3-1 at Safeco Field and regained sole possession of first in the AL West.
We are all familiar with Hernandez’s recent domination over the Athletics. If not, reference his last two starts against the squad in which he has pitched 15 and 1/3 innings, yielding 10 hits while striking out 20.
Gray has been similarly dominant thus far. Saturday, Gray pitched seven innings in which he yielded five hits, one run and two walks while striking out nine. Including his 6-3 win against Seattle last Sunday, Gray is now 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.
While Gray was having his way with the Seattle lineup, Erasmo Ramirez struggled his way through five innings. Ramirez fell to 1-2 after yielding six hits, three walks and three runs.
It wasn’t the type of outing Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon expected.
“He just did not have command,” McClendon said. “I didn’t see command of the fastball, I didn’t see command of the secondary pitches. It was a very disappointing outing. I thought I would see better this time.
“I will say this, Erasmo really battled, gave us five innings and actually kept us in the ball game…We had opportunities, we just couldn’t take advantage.”
The A’s got to Ramirez early, thanks to a Josh Donaldson 2-run home run to left in the first inning. Oakland (7-4) would tack on a third run in third inning when Brandon Moss laced a ball into the left-center gap that Mariners’ left fielder Dustin Ackley was unable to make a clean transfer on after making a nice sliding catch.
In another example of how new umpire emphasis on a poorly-worded rule is affecting the game, Moss was given credit for a hit, but was later ruled out for passing teammate Josh Donaldson — who had retreated thinking the ball was caught — on the bases.
Regardless of the confusion, Oakland took a 3-1 lead and that was all it would need.
After Gray cruised through seven frames, the Mariners mounted a small rally against Oakland’s Luke Gregerson in the ninth inning, but Gregerson got backup catcher John Buck to ground out to short with runners on first and second to end the game and to pick up his first save.
Ackley once again led the Mariners’ attack. The left-fielder finished 2-for-4 with a double batting out of the seventh spot. Robinson Cano picked up the lone RBI for the Mariners when his ground out scored Abraham Almonte from third in the first inning. Cano finished 1-for-4.
In what should be a battle all season long, Seattle is now 2-3 against the A’s, trailing in total runs 17-15. The A’s are the two-time defending AL West division champions and McClendon said he expects the season series to be a struggle for both teams to gain an edge.
“They’re a tough team,” McClendon said. “They’re division champs back-to-back. They’re no fluke. We played well, but you don’t get the ice cream for playing well, you get the ice cream for winning ball games. Tonight we didn’t win it.”
The two teams will conclude their 3-game series, Sunday afternoon, as Chris Young will look to give the Mariners a series win against Scott Kazmir (2-0, 2.03 ERA).
— The Mariners agreed to trade former reliever Hector Noesi to the Texas Rangers on Saturday for a player-to-be-named-later or cash considerations. Noesi had been designated for assignment on April 4th, giving the Mariners 10 days to release, trade or re-assign the right-hander.
— McClendon announced Saturday that Blake Beavan will make Tuesday’s start in Texas as the Mariners go with a fifth starter for the first time in the season. Taijuan Walker, the other candidate for the start, will make a third rehab start, this time in AAA Tacoma early next week.
— In more pitching news, Mariners’ starter Hisashi Iwakuma threw a 45-pitch bullpen session, Saturday afternoon. He mixed in more off-speed pitches and said he was pleased with how the ball was coming out of his hand.