It was a rare rough road start for Carlos Carrasco and the bats of his Cleveland Indians teammates could not kick off the All-Star break rust against Sonny Gray, who led the Oakland Athletics to a 5-0 four-hit shutout late Friday night.
Gray had the daunting task of taking the mound knowing that each start could be the last in the only home that he has known in his professional career. Rumored to be one of the more heavily pursued starting pitchers potentially on the trade block, now with Chicago’s Jose Quintana off of the market, the 27-year-old right-hander had to deal with rumors of his start being scratched less than an hour before first pitch. The speculation swirled through social media and led to him having to put his cell phone away due to the flood of text messages that he received less than an hour before taking the mound from those wondering if there was validity to his participation in “Hug Watch 2017”.
All Gray did from there was pitch like the highly coveted player that interested teams envisioned him to be.
Just four batters reached safely off of Gray, who gave Oakland six innings of two-hit shutout baseball. The A’s bullpen handled matters the rest of the way, with a lead large enough to allow a mistake or two. Those would not come as the Tribe bats were dormant in the first game out of a very busy All-Star break for the coaching staff and five players from the roster, who spent the midseason break in Miami for the Midsummer Classic.
One of those All-Stars, Michael Brantley, was the first base runner of the game, drawing a two-out walk in the first inning off of Gray, but the Oakland starter notched his second strikeout of the inning to avoid any damage by the free pass.
Carrasco had an unusual second inning as he flirted with danger. After striking out the first two men swinging, he walked back-to-back hitters, putting Ryon Healy and Bruce Maxwell on for Matt Chapman. The A’s third baseman would become the third swinging strikeout victim of the inning three straight strikes later.
The Indians had what would be their biggest threat of the night against Gray in the third. Erik Gonzalez reached on a one-out infield single. He was forced at second on a fielder’s choice off of the bat of Bradley Zimmer, and the rookie center fielder would move to second on a single by Francisco Lindor. The pair would advance no further, however, as Brantley grounded into a force at second to end the two-out rally attempt.
The A’s had shown a willingness to take a few pitches from Carrasco the first time through the order, but they would flip that script in the third to score two very quick runs. Rajai Davis singled to short on the first pitch of the inning. Leadoff man Matt Joyce jumped on the first pitch he saw and doubled to the wall in right-center to score Davis while advancing to third himself on the throw to the plate. After taking a ball, Marcus Semien hit a sacrifice fly to deep center to make it a 2-0 game before Carrasco struck out the three and four hitters in the lineup to end the frame.
Carrasco worked around a two-out double by Maxwell in the fourth, but could not escape his former teammate Davis in the fifth. The Tribe’s postseason hero via an eighth inning long ball in Game 7 of the World Series delivered a solo shot to left-center to extend the Oakland lead to 3-0. After striking out the next two batters, Carrasco served up a second homer in the inning as All-Star first baseman Yonder Alonso hit a solo shot to right-center to make it a 4-0 ball game.
With a big lead to work with, Gray retired nine straight until an error with two outs in the sixth allowed Brantley to reach base safely for the second time. He stole second, but would be stranded there as Edwin Encarnacion flied out to right in Gray’s final inning of work.
Oakland would tack on one more run in the bottom of the seventh after a leadoff triple by Chapman. Davis struck out swinging before Boone Logan walked Joyce. Nick Goody came on as the third pitcher of the inning and struck out Semien on four pitches before his wild pitch to Chapman pushed across the fifth run of the night. Goody would retire Alonso on a foul out, but the A’s had padded their lead to five runs.
The Oakland bullpen was good on Friday. Ryan Madson retired all three outs in the seventh on strikeouts, working around a two-out single by Yan Gomes. Sean Doolittle struck out the first two men he faced before retiring Lindor on a grounder. Santiago Casilla took care of the ninth, setting down the first two batters before another two-out hit, this time a double to right by Jose Ramirez. Again, a late rally opportunity was wasted as Carlos Santana grounded to short to end it.
Carrasco took the loss after allowing all five runs on six hits in six and one-third innings. He walked two and struck out ten on 96 pitches, but was unable to survive the damage done in the third and fifth inning scoring bursts by the A’s. He dropped to 10-4 on the season with the loss.
Gray improved to 5-4 with an outing that no doubt impressed teams keeping a watchful eye on him. He allowed just two hits and a walk in six innings of work, striking out five on an even 100 pitches.
Neither team did anything with runners in scoring position. The Indians (47-41) were 0-for-3 with six men left on base. The A’s (40-50) were 0-for-5 and left four men.
The Indians will look to get back in the win column on Saturday with their ace on the mound. Corey Kluber (7-3, 2.80 ERA) will look to reverse some poor numbers against the A’s in his career. He is 2-4 overall against them and 0-2 pitching in Oakland. He is coming off of his shortest start since returning from the disabled list at the beginning of June after working five innings of one-run baseball against Detroit in the finale of the first half.
Oakland will send an unknown to the slab on Saturday. Right-hander Paul Blackburn (1-0, 0.66) will make the third start in what has been a strong beginning to his Major League career. The 23-year-old former first round pick of the Chicago Cubs lasted seven and two-thirds innings against Seattle in his most recent start, giving up a run on eight hits to earn his first big league win. He previously worked six innings against Atlanta, allowing just an unearned run in a no-decision.
First pitch from the Bay Area is scheduled for 9:05 PM ET.
Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images