Oakland A's Spring Q&A: Jeff Gray, P

Oakland A's reliever Jeff Gray completed the climb from a 32nd round draft pick to a major league reliever last season. This year, armed with newly refined mechanics, Gray is looking to take the next step to being a major league regular. We caught-up with Gray on the A's off-day on Monday…

OaklandClubhouse: How did you enjoy your day off?

Jeff Gray: If I had hit some better shots today, I would be happier. [laughs]

OC: Was it nice to have a day off this early in camp?

JG: It feels great, to be honest with you, because we have been going at it hard the entire time since camp opened. Bob Alejo [A's Strength and Conditioning Coach] has been working us really hard.

OC: Has it been a lot of running?

JG: It's been more just making sure that everyone is in shape and that everyone is ready to go. Making sure the injuries aren't there anymore.

OC: I saw that you had a good outing over the weekend. Do you feel like the mechanical things that you were working on last fall have carried over into the spring for you in a positive way?

JG: Yes, I do. I am seeing the same results that I was seeing during the Arizona Fall League. I'm not quite dialed in as quickly as I usually am and I'm still trying to work through the control issues that I normally have. Especially with the new mechanics, I have to work harder at it. But I would say that I am right where I left off in the Fall League.

OC: How did you feel that going back to the Fall League for a second time and working with [A's bullpen coach] Ron Romanick so closely while you were there helped you going into this season?

JG: When they told me [last September] that I needed to work on a couple of things, it was already set-up for me to go to the Dominican Republic to play. I wasn't sure how I was going to make those changes on my own. But working with Ronny instead in the Fall League and now having him here, it's a great thing. He knows exactly where everything is and exactly where I need to be. I've gone up to him a couple of times already this year and said, ‘this doesn't feel quite right,' and he goes, ‘you are fine. You are right where you need to be.' Having him see that and know that, it helps me get into the right groove going into a game.

OC: You picked up your second AFL Championship ring this fall and you have two PCL titles. What is it like to win championships at those levels?

JG: It's fun. Winning is fun. [laughs] Being in both atmospheres, it's different in both situations. In Sacramento, it's really intense. It's really big. But in the Fall League, you have a bunch of guys and we are there for a couple of months and making good friends. It's just as much fun [as playing with a full-season squad], especially with some of the younger guys who just got drafted who are there. Some of those guys haven't had a chance to get a ring before. Seeing them with their eyes lighting up, ready to go, just the intensity, it's great, it's fun.

OC: The A's have a lot of guys in big league camp. I think I read it was something like 63 players. Is the atmosphere in camp a lot of competition, or is it more relaxed?

JG: A little bit of both. It's good competition this year. A lot of guys are going into it saying, ‘you know, if he can do it, I can do it.' Seeing a lot of the younger guys like Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Vinny Mazzaro, and then you have the older guys like Russ Springer and Michael Wuertz, two good pick-ups that the team made, and everyone is looking at it like, ‘hey, if they can do it, I can do it.' It's just really good competition and I think everyone is pushing each other to get a little bit better this year.

OC: Has the team been distracted at all about the rumors that the team was close to or had signed guys like Orlando Cabrera, or are you able to focus just on your day-to-day preparations?

JG: There hasn't been a lot of talk going on, up until today, about the Cabrera signing. Everybody is sort of like, ‘I am here to play ball and get ready for the season and that is what needs to be done.' The team is going to be really good this year. You just look at all of the talent that they brought in and the people that we have signed. It is really exciting to look at this year as compared to last year with what they are trying to do. Everybody seems to be focused and ready to roll.

OC: You mentioned Springer and Wuertz and the A's also brought in a couple of veterans on the offensive-side of the ball. Is it beneficial for a young player to be around guys who have been to All-Star games or have played in the league for seven, 10 or 15 years? Do you learn a lot from them?

JG: Oh, it's unbelievable. You go over and start a conversation with Springer and he'll tell you everything that he knows. He loves to help you out in any way that he can and you talk to Wuertz for a different angle. Both of those guys are from the National League, so they have a different perspective on things. At the same time, Springer has also pitched in the American League, so you get all of that knowledge with him. Even the young guys like Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler, they have been through it, so sitting down in the bullpen with them is helpful. Then you've got Matt Holliday for a perspective on hitters and you've got Jason Giambi's perspective. There is just so much information on how they approach the game and what they look at. You just learn so much. I think that is what this game really is, you are always learning. You can learn something new every day.

OC: How much more comfortable do you feel in big league camp this year after having been to big league camp last year and having played in September with a lot of the guys who are still on the roster?

JG: It's really comfortable. Like you said, I know a lot of these guys and I played with them in spring training last year and in September last year. It's really comfortable, the conversations and everything. Some of the younger guys have come up to me and asked, ‘is this cool, do we need to do this?' And stuff like that. I haven't really stepped into that yet because this is just my second year, but I do pass on the stuff that I know and I guess that I am getting into that area of younger guys looking to me for advice. But it's not very much of that yet. I'm still looking at the older guys. It's more comfortable, it really is.

OC: What are your expectations for camp this year? Are you aiming to make the team out of spring training, or are you looking to make an impression with the coaching staff so that you would be the first guy called up if there was an injury?

JG: I'm looking to be there this year. That's one thing that I would love to do. But if it doesn't happen, then I want to be the first guy called up. And if that doesn't happen, then I just have to keep working at it. It's all about timing and what situation presents itself up there. Like I said, it's going to be exciting to watch them because they are going to win some baseball games this year and if I can help them out in any way at any time, I'm ready to roll.

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