MESA, Ariz. -- In what might otherwise have been just another Oakland Athletics spring training game, notable because presumed ace Sonny Gray made his first start while Barry Zito looked sharp for two innings (before getting beaten on in his third), the biggest of big-picture news had nothing to do with the game’s result: Manager Bob Melvin announced that outfielder Coco Crisp’s MRI on his strained right lower triceps today came back negative for any structural damage. There’s still inflammation that will cost Crisp a few more days out of the lineup, but Melvin’s relief was almost visceral.
“I was holding my breath, you never know with these things. And when we had him go get an MRI, shoot, after [Josh] Reddick’s injury, I said it might be two or three days. You always kind of hold your breath.”
Shades of Gray: Sonny Gray’s first start was predictably a reflection of his excitement about getting back into action. The anticipated lead starter in the rotation is still just 25 years old and is clearly excited about delivering on his new top dog status.
“He was amped up, you could tell. His stuff was really good, command not the best or as we’re used to seeing it,” Melvin said. “Crisp curveballs, good sliders, good life on his fastball. For me, I’m just looking for life. The command wasn’t what we’re used to seeing out of him. But he gets pretty excited that first time out there, and it was more just about seeing the action of his pitches, and all of them were good for me.”
“I felt a little quick at times, especially with the sinker. I kept missing low with it,” Gray said. “Probably next time, I’m probably going to need to take a deep breath, slow down, and just work on making a few more pitches.”
“I feel like my four-seam [fastball] was right where I wanted it, it was just, I came in after the first inning and said, ‘let’s throw some sinkers in there,’ and then it was ball one, ball two, and I was just missing down with it. That’s something that will get better for sure.”
The result of working on his sinker? Yasmany Tomas’ booming home run to right to put the D-backs on the board.
Zito the Stoic: Entering the game in the fourth inning, in his second Cactus League outing, veteran lefty Barry Zito cruised through his first two innings getting a three-pitch strikeout on a curve and retiring six of seven batters. He also got roughed up in his third inning, giving up a homer on a curveball to Diamondbacks DH Jake Lamb and a double to Cody Ross, allowing two runs.
“Down, riding in on their hands, just missing barrels,” Zito said, evaluating his initial pair of innings. “That’s what you want, weak contact, in the air or on the ground.”
The expectation that Zito’s velocity might improve as a result of his offseason work with Ron Wolforth -- the pitching guru perhaps previously best known for turning around Scott Kazmir’s career -- seemed to have born some early fruit.
“I was looking at the radar gun, and I thought I saw some 86s and 87s,” Melvin said. “I know he was particularly happy with his command, especially in those first two innings. Whether he was tired or not in the third, I don’t know. There were some more balls that were up a little bit. [But] the first two innings? The best stuff we’ve seen out of him.”
“From a process standpoint, I feel I’m pretty close to where I want to be,” Zito said. “I’ll just continue work on sequencing these three pitches, throwing the change and curveball in any count, throwing them to both lefties and righties, and developing the consistency of my repertoire.”
Notes: Mark Canha’s second home run to the opposite field was good news, but Melvin was especially impressed with routes in left field, observing that, “Left field can be a tough sun field here, and for a guy that we’re going to play a little bit all over, he was on it right away, you could see his breaks and his routes were really good, taking his eye off the ball and going after it, he made some good plays in the outfield.” ... The A's won the game 6-5. ... Melvin confirmed that Jarrod Parker will face batters for the first time on Friday, and that A.J. Griffin will have at least one more bullpen session. Of Parker’s bullpen session today, Melvin said, “We haven’t had a gun on [Parker], but the last two times I saw him warming up down there, you’d think that he was warming up for a game, that how good he looks to me.”