No one has energized the Oakland Athletics like Sonny Gray did Thursday afternoon as he dominated the Houston Astros in his first start in Oakland, en route to earning his first Major League victory. Gray displayed all of the traits that one looks for in a top of the line starting pitcher, and he most definitely brought forth more comparisons to established starting pitchers. It’s been no mystery that the most frequent comparison to Sonny Gray has been former Athletics starter Tim Hudson. Hudson was absolutely the first name that came to my mind after watching Gray pitch in the College World Series back in 2011 with Vanderbilt.
Of course, they draw these comparisons for being small in stature, because they both hail from the south, and because they both have that ultra competitive nature. The similarities though seem to end right about there. But in watching Gray’s spectacular start tonight, another top of the line starting pitcher came to mind. His name is Matt Cain.
While Matt Cain plays for the most hated team this side of the New York Yankees in the minds of most A’s fans, no reasonable fan can deny that Cain is one of the more likable players on that team. So the repulsive response A’s fans might have to this comparison should be minimized.
Sonny Gray’s mechanics have evolved since his days as a Commodore, they have been simplified, streamlined, and made much more repeatable than they were before. And in doing so he has become something of a hybrid of both Hudson and Cain. Needless to say, if he amounts to anything close to what those two have become then the Athletics will have quite the pitcher on their hands.
What made me think of Cain in the first place was the manner in which Gray delivers the pitch. If you watch highlights of his start on Thursday, and seek out some highlights of Matt Cain over his career and you’ll see ths similarities. I’m talking specifically about the the moment he releases the pitch, not so much the build up to the pitch. The ball explodes out of Gray’s hand, and has a heaviness to it that will make it difficult for hitters to square up his pitches. They both feature an impressive 12-6 curveball that will buckle hitter’s knees.
What makes both Tim Hudson and Matt Cain so special is their ability to bear down and battle through adverse situations. For Hudson, it’s why he’s been nicknamed “the Bulldog,” for Cain, well, it’s why there’s a guy in the bleachers at AT&T Park who dresses like a horse. Gray threw 118 pitches during his 8 innings of scoreless baseball on Thursday, and he’s shown in the past that he’s not afraid to dig down and keep throwing until he gets the job done. He threw 132 pitches in his final start at Vanderbilt.
So while we all bask in the glory of Sonny Gray’s dominant performance, and get excited for his future, we must also take into consideration the fact that he’s still young and will have some growing pains. We saw a portion of that especially with Matt Cain in his early years, but he continued to battle and emerged on the other side as one of the better starting pitchers in the entire league. He’s battled a bit this year, likely due in part to the increased workload from the two World Series runs for the Giants, but he’s still among the top starters in the league in many books. Gray will have to look up to pitchers like Cain and like Tim Hudson when times get tough for him. He’s now proven that he has the talent to compete at this level, next is his time to grow as a pitcher and continue his development as he embarks on what is hopefully a long and successful Major League career.