Sonny Gray spent the past few days with Oakland pitching coach Curt Young, making subtle adjustments to his delivery.
Gray won’t reveal exactly what he and Young worked on. Suffice to say, the Athletics’ young staff ace is pleased with the results.
Brandon Moss hit a tiebreaking RBI double in the fifth inning, and Gray bounced back from two sub-par outings to lead Oakland over the Texas Rangers 4-2 Wednesday, giving the Athletics (44-28) the best record in the majors.
“Overall it was a pretty good outing,” said Gray, who had won just two of eight starts before going seven innings against Texas and striking out seven.
“I don’t think there really is a difference other than I was able to make pitches,” he said. “That’s probably it. People sometimes forget that baseball is a pretty hard game and there’s going to be some rough patches that you’re going to go through.”
Gray (7-3) bounced back nicely from his recent rough stretch. The right-hander needed only 31 pitches to get through the first three innings, then struck out Brad Snyder on a high 95 mph fastball to end the fourth with runners at second and third.
Gray also got help from left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, who made a leaping catch at the warning track to rob Adrian Beltre of extra bases two batters before Snyder struck out.
His lone mistake came in the fifth when Texas loaded the bases with two outs. Gray walked two and gave up an infield single before Shin-Soo Choo’s two-run single made it 2-2.
“It’s just balance for him,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He knows his delivery (and) his mechanics pretty well, and Curt’s terrific at pointing out subtle things. There are a couple things he’s been working on.”
Cespedes and Josh Donaldson each had two hits for the A’s. Oakland has won four of five and is a season-high 16 games over .500.
Their record is one game better than cross-bay rival San Francisco.
“Anytime in the season that you can say you have the best record in baseball, it’s satisfying,” Melvin said. “But there’s a lot of baseball yet to be played. At least for the time being it feels good.”
Luke Gregerson pitched the eighth, and Sean Doolittle worked the ninth for his ninth save.
Nick Tepesch (2-3) went five innings for Texas.
Choo drove in both runs for the Rangers.
“We have to get more than five innings out of our starting pitching and we have to have a shutdown inning after we score runs,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “Somehow that (Oakland) lineup is always functioning. Somebody is always having a good day.”
Melvin shuffled his lineup and didn’t start center fielder Coco Crisp and second baseman Eric Sogard.
Oakland’s offense didn’t miss a beat.
John Jaso replaced Crisp in the leadoff spot and knocked in the A’s first run with a double in the third. Craig Gentry, who filled in at center field, added two hits and scored a run. Second baseman Alberto Callaspo also had two hits.
That was enough for Gray, who gave up two runs and six hits. He improved to 8-2 with a 1.90 ERA in 13 career starts against teams from within the A’s division.
“He was keeping us off balance,” said outfielder Alex Rios, who doubled off Gray in the fourth. “He managed his slider well. and his fastball had good velocity. He was locating it well.”
Cespedes scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the inning. He singled off Tepesch and scored on Moss’ double to right, barely beating the throw home with a headfirst slide.
After Donaldson singled Moss to third, Stephen Vogt hit a short sacrifice fly to left to put Oakland up 4-2.
Tepesch remained winless since May 26. He allowed nine hits over five innings with two walks and one strikeout.
NOTES: Doolittle hasn’t allowed a run in 22 1/3 innings, the longest active streak in the AL. … Crisp was given a normal day off. … Sogard pinch-ran after Callaspo singled in the ninth. … Rangers 3B Luis Sardinas singled in the third to extend his career-best hitting streak to seven games. … Texas LHP Joe Saunders (0-2), who will pitch the opener against the Angels on Friday, has allowed two earned runs or fewer in four starts since coming off the DL. … Oakland LHP Scott Kazmir (8-2), who opens the series against Boston on Thursday, has a 0.95 ERA over his previous four starts.
Updated June 19, 2014