Oakland A's MLN: Gray Looking For Control

After three seasons flying under the radar in the Oakland A's system, right-hander Jeff Gray established himself as a prospect by leading A's minor league relievers in saves in 2007. This off-season, the hard-throwing Gray participated in the Arizona Fall League and was added to the 40-man roster. Now he is looking to make the leap to the next level.

The 2007 campaign qualified as a breakthrough season for Jeff Gray. In his first full season as a reliever, Gray breezed through Double-A during the first month of the year and quickly established himself as a key member of a Sacramento River Cats' bullpen that helped the team win the PCL and Triple-A championships. Between the two levels, Gray saved 15 games and posted a 3.34 ERA. After the minor league season ended, Gray competed against the top prospects in baseball at the Arizona Fall League.

All of those accomplishments culminated in Gray being added to the Oakland A's 40-man roster in November. This spring, he participated in his first big league spring training. He appeared in three big league spring games, allowing one run in three innings.

"It was exciting. A lot of fun. It really opened my eyes to how close you really are [to the big leagues]," Gray said.

During his time with the A's this spring, Gray took the opportunity to soak in as much information as he could from the players in camp.

"Talking to some of the guys in big league spring training and talking to some of the guys who had been [in the big leagues] before, you pick up little ideas from time-to-time and little tidbits here and there," Gray said.

"I spent a lot of time picking the brains of those guys."

At the start of the regular season, Gray returned to Triple-A with the River Cats. One of Gray's biggest goals this season was to be more consistent, as he felt his time with Sacramento in 2007 had a lot of peaks and valleys. Although his ERA sits at 4.43 through Saturday, Gray feels that he has had a more even approach this season.

"Things have been better than last year. Not so much of a roller coaster this season," Gray said.

"It's a lot more comfortable [in Triple-A this season] because now I know what to expect and the type of hitters I'll be facing."

Gray's bread-and-butter pitch is his fastball, which is regularly clocked in the mid-90s. When asked which pitch he goes to in a jam, Gray is quick to answer.

"It's always been the fastball. I think it will always be the fastball. I have been trying to work on the command of my breaking pitches so I can use those in certain situations so that I can give a different look," Gray said.

Since becoming a reliever, Gray's biggest fault has been his inconsistent command. He walked more than three batters per nine innings last season, and is hovering around three walks per nine innings this season.

"It's better, but I am still working on it [location]," Gray said with a chuckle.

"It is better this year, but I think control is always going to be a challenge for me."

Gray has been on the upswing of late. In June, Gray was one of Sacramento's top relievers. He allowed only three runs in 10.1 innings with nine strikeouts. With two of Sacramento's top relievers now in Oakland – Jerry Blevins and Brad Ziegler – Gray will be playing an important role in Sacramento's bullpen in the coming weeks.

News And Notes

– With Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson joining the Midland Rockhounds' rotation, right-hander Andrew Bailey has been moved into the bullpen. Bailey struggled in the starting rotation for the Rockhounds this season, posting a 6.18 ERA in 71.1 innings. Bailey showed good stuff as a starter, striking out 69 batters and allowing less than a hit an inning (69 hits). However, he struggled with his control, walking 45. His command has been better since moving into the bullpen. Bailey has made three appearances, allowing one hit and two walks in 3.2 innings. He hasn't allowed a run and he has struck-out six.

– Midland right-hander Vince Mazzaro continued his strong 2008 season with another solid start on Saturday. The 21-year-old allowed three runs in seven innings to earn his eighth win of the season. He has an 8-3 record and a 2.29 ERA in 106 innings. Mazzaro has allowed only 95 hits and 27 walks. During the month of June, he allowed only six earned runs in 32.2 innings (1.65 ERA) and he had a 26:7 K:BB ratio. Mazzaro hasn't allowed a homerun since April.

– Sacramento infielder Brooks Conrad hit his 17th homerun on Sunday in the River Cats' 6-5 loss to Fresno. He had four RBIs in the game and has 56 on the season. Conrad has struggled to hit for average this season, however, posting only a .225 BA overall and a .194 BA in June. He leads the River Cats in homeruns, RBIs and total bases.

– Stockton first baseman Chris Carter hit his 22nd homerun on Sunday in Stockton's loss to Lancaster. He has raised his average to .250 after watching it dip down near .200 in May. Carter hit .319 with a 1166 OPS during the month of June. He leads the California League in homers and is tied for fourth in the league in RBIs. Carter is also fourth in the league in walks.

– In six starts since returning to High-A Stockton, Henry Rodriguez has allowed 13 runs in 31.2 innings (3.75 ERA) with 47 strikeouts and 17 walks. In 48.2 innings at High-A this season, Rodriguez has a 2.96 ERA and a 70:22 K:BB ratio. In 33.2 innings at Double-A, Rodriguez had an 8.82 ERA and a 36:36 K:BB ratio.

Craig Italiano has struggled with his command in his first two starts with High-A Stockton. In 7.1 innings, Italiano has walked seven and has struck-out five. He has an 8.59 ERA with the Ports. In 70 innings with Low-A Kane County this season, Italiano had a 1.16 ERA with 79 strikeouts and 35 walks.

– A's 2008 fifth round draft pick Jason Christian is off to a fast start to his pro career. After collecting four hits on Sunday, Christian has a .350 BA in 18 games for Vancouver. The Michigan alum has a 976 OPS and he is riding an eight-game hitting streak. The left-handed hitter is crushing right-handed pitching to the tune of a .378 BA with a 1039 OPS.

– A's 2008 10th round pick Rashun Dixon hit two homeruns for the Arizona Rookie League A's on Sunday. The 17-year-old has four hits (three of them extra-base hits) in his last eight at-bats after collecting only four hits in his first 31 at-bats as a pro. His three homeruns lead the AZL A's. He also has two triples and an 818 OPS in 10 games.

– A's 2008 15th round pick Nino Leyja has been hot at the plate since starting his pro career. The 17-year-old shortstop has hit safely in all but two of his 10 games and he is batting .324. Leyja has walked six times against six strikeouts and he has three doubles and two triples. His 954 OPS leads all AZL A's players with more than 30 at-bats.

– Right-hander Mike Madsen and outfielder Chris Denorfia both made rehab appearances on Sunday. Madsen, who has been out with an arm injury since the first week of the season, threw a scoreless inning for the AZL A's. Denorfia, who has been on the A's DL since May 11, went 0-4 for the Sacramento River Cats.

– Three more members of the Sacramento River Cats joined the Oakland A's active roster this weekend. Wes Bankston, Gregorio Petit and Jerry Blevins were called upon to fill-in for injured A's players. Bankston, who is making his major league debut, has seven hits in his first 20 at-bats with Oakland, including two doubles. Petit appeared in one game this weekend, going 1-2 with a walk at the plate and committing a throwing error in the field. This is his second stint with the A's this season. Blevins made two appearances against the White Sox, throwing 2.2 scoreless innings. He walked one, struck-out two and allowed one hit.

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