Gray to Make First Start in Toronto

The Athletics have started the dog-days stretch of season in pitiable fashion, going 1-6 their last seven games. Even worse, they've seen their six-game lead in the division over Texas evaporate. Friday they open a four-game set in Toronto in a dead heat atop the American League West with top prospect Sonny Gray expected to make his first major-league start Saturday.

Amidst their two off days this week, the A's have made some interesting roster moves, including the re-acquisition of Adam Rosales off waivers and the upcoming promotion of Sonny Gray to join the starting rotation.

Oakland gave Gray a cup of coffee out of the bullpen back in early-July, appearing in two games and throwing four innings of scoreless ball. In the meantime, he made three starts for Triple-A Sacramento, allowing 11 earned runs in 16 innings (6.12 ERA). But considering the circumstances, regaining a routine and getting stretched back out as a starter was more important than numbers themselves.

Without acquiring any starting pitching help at the trade deadline, it was clear the A's plan revolved around getting Gray up to the big leagues sooner rather than later. And with the struggles in the rotation, getting Gray up to pitch Saturday highlighted the importance of getting the other arms an extra day's rest with Tommy Milone working things out back in Sacramento.

But the flip side of every promotion is figuring out which player is taken off the active roster. Evan Scribner – the extra bullpen arm added when Milone was sent down – was optioned back to Triple-A to make room for Rosales' waiver claim. Alberto Callaspo says his arm feels fine, after a collision at home plate earlier in the week, according to reports. A DL stint for Callaspo doesn't seem likely, making Rosales a candidate for his third DFA in 10 days to make room for Gray.

This time, the chances of Rosales clearing are better than they were when he was claimed by Texas August 2. Teams are in the middle of trying to rework their rosters after the non-waiver deadline. They wouldn't be likely to use their waiver position to claim a player like Rosales while looking for more significant upgrades than utility infielder that's hitting just .193/.289/.334 on the season.

The A's are still likely in the market for a bat that can help spark the lineup. In the last seven games, the team is averaging just over two runs per and has a miserable 582 OPS. Everything in baseball is contagious, for reasons no one can ever explain, and the struggles are spreading through the lineup like the flu.

The Athletics are looking to avenge their recent series loss at home to Toronto before returning to Oakland to play the Astros – which has been a remedy for poor play throughout the season. Splitting the series against the Blue Jays would be considered a win with the way the team is playing.

Jarrod Parker (7-6, 4.02 ERA) will open the series against Esmil Rogers (3-6, 4.61). Parker earned his first win since mid-June in his last start, throwing six innings of two-run ball against the Rangers. Parker has been the A's most consistent starter not named Bartolo Colon, but the results haven't said so. Going back to June 23, Oakland is 2-5 in games Parker has pitched.

The A's blasted Rogers in his start in Oakland July 28, scoring eight runs on 10 hits in 4.1 frames. He backed that up by allowing seven runs (five earned) in his next outing in Anaheim. In four second-half starts, hitters are slashing .366/.400/.604 against the 27-year-old.

Mark Buehrle (7-7, 4.41) will take on Gray (0-0, 0.00) Saturday. Buehrle was coming off two straight scoreless outings in his last start before yielding five runs in six innings. Two starts ago in Oakland he held the to just five hits in seven innings in his team's 5-0 win.

Gray – making his first major league start – will finally have an opportunity to showcase the stuff that made him a first round pick in a starting capacity. He'll be the second player drafted in the first round to hit the A's rotation this season with Parker being the other.

The 23-year-old's story has been well documented. After getting drafted out of Vanderbuilt in 2011 he pitched just once in the Arizona Rookie League before getting promoted aggressively to Double-A Midland, where he had a 0.45 ERA 1.05 WHIP in five starts. He stuck in the Texas League the next season and saw mixed results while working on making mechanical adjustments and dealing with a hot and cold temperament on the hill.

This year, Gray threw well enough with Sacramento to be tabbed the starter for the Pacific Coast League in the Triple-A All-Star game after leading the league in strikeouts before getting promoted to the A's to come out of the bullpen in early-July. There, he show his potential with his mid-90s fastball and hammer of a curve that grades out as one of the best pitches of anyone in the team's current rotation. A good start from Gray could go a long way toward reinvigorating a struggling pitching staff.

Sunday afternoon's affair will see A.J. Griffin (10-8, 3.81) square off against R.A. Dickey (9-11, 4.49). Griffin has allowed 10 home runs in his last four starts, giving him 28 on the season to lead baseball. But he's still found ways to come out with wins in four of his last six starts despite a 5.04 ERA. Hitters are hitting just .216 against him while slugging .557 - quite the interesting dichotomy. Ten of his 21 hits allowed in that span left the ballpark.

Griffin will have two days of extra rest which the A's hope will help even things out.

Dickey threw well in his last start in Seattle, throwing 7.2 innings of one-run ball to earn his ninth victory. The knuckle-baller had lost three straight decisions prior. He started against the A's July 31 and allowed two unearned runs in his no-decision. The Blue Jays won that game 5-2.

The four-game set wraps up Monday when Josh Johnson (2-8, 6.20) and Dan Straily (6-6, 4.41) take the hill. Johnson missed 34 games this year while dealing with triceps inflammation. He also missed a start with a blister immediately after returning from the disabled list in early-June.

Johnson had a very rough four-game stretch leading up to his last start when he allowed 26 runs in 16 frames. But in his last outing he threw five shutout innings against the Mariners.

Oakland hopes Straily can also benefit from extra time off. In his last three appearances, the right-hander hasn't been able to get out of the fifth inning. It's no coincidence the team is 0-3 in the span while Straily has a 6.23 ERA and .333/.391/.509 slash line allowed. He matched up with Buehrle July 30 and allowed two earned (five total) in the game the A's were held scoreless.

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