A's tab Gray as Opening Day starter
As rookie, right-hander emerged as postseason star against Tigers
PHOENIX -- Sonny Gray has the potential to buck a trend that he continued on Sunday.
The young right-hander was named the A's Opening Day starter, becoming the ninth consecutive different pitcher to take the mound for Oakland on Day 1.
It's the longest such streak in the Majors, but might it end next year?
"I think this is the perfect fit for him, the perfect role," teammate Sean Doolittle said of Gray. "He doesn't have to be the quiet rookie who's watching every move he makes and every word he says. He's got a good enough head on his shoulders and enough confidence and maturity to where he can still be himself."
It's very plausible this is the first of many Opening Day starts for Gray, the A's 2011 first-round Draft pick who made his debut just last July. The 24-year-old has only 12 big league starts to his name, yet two of them came on baseball's biggest stage against one of the game's best.
Gray's ability to go toe to toe with Detroit's Justin Verlander in Games 2 and 5 of the American League Division Series played a significant role in manager Bob Melvin's decision.
"He's very quickly become that guy for us -- whether it was last year in the playoffs or being the Friday night guy at Vanderbilt, he was always that guy," said Melvin. "He's not afraid of the spotlight, not that anyone else couldn't do it as well. But we're comfortable with him.
"Not only the poise, but the competitiveness, how driven he is, and we've seen it all spring long here, too," said Melvin. "Whether he's throwing in a bullpen, pitching in a game, it doesn't matter to him, he's the same guy all the time and takes his 'A' game out there and is prepared every single time."
Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone will follow in a Jarrod Parker-less rotation behind Gray, who will christen the A's season with a 7:05 p.m. PT start against the Indians at the Coliseum on March 31. Righty A.J. Griffin (elbow) is expected to return in May.
Melvin insisted not to dissect the rotation order beyond Gray, noting, "We like them anywhere."
"We feel like all our guys are good and give us confidence to win on a particular day," he said, "but the way things ironed out this spring and the way they're set up, this is the way we left with it."
"There's a lot of excitement," said Gray. "I've had a big smile on my face. It's something that I've worked really hard for, not to be the guy on Opening Day, but just to be in the big leagues. Going out there on the first day, that makes it even more exciting.
"It was something I hoped to one day get the opportunity to do, but to do it so early is special. Every starter kind of wants to have that opportunity."
Gray was 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA in 12 games (10 starts) last year, striking out 67 next to only 20 walks in 64 innings. He limited the Tigers to three earned runs in 13 innings over two starts in the playoffs.
"You look at what he did for us down the stretch last year and into the playoffs, and he might've earned this start in Game 2 or Game 5," said Doolittle. "As far as this team's concerned, he's a veteran. He's one of those guys. Yeah, he's young, but you look at that stage he was on, and he doesn't get rattled."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.