Athletics-Twins Preview

The Associated Press

While Sonny Gray has pitched well since joining the Oakland Athletics' rotation, he hasn't been backed by much support.

Manager Bob Melvin's offense couldn't get it done in the opener of this three-game set, either.

Gray tries to bounce back from a hard-luck loss Wednesday night as AL West-leading Oakland continues its playoff push against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

Gray (2-3, 2.51 ERA) has mostly been superb since getting called up for the second time Aug. 10, recording a 2.77 ERA and 38 strikeouts in six starts spanning 39 innings. While the 23-year-old rookie has surrendered two or zero earned runs in all but one of those outings, he hasn't been helped by a 3.69 run-support average.

The A's failed to come through for Gray again in Thursday's 3-2 loss to Houston. The right-hander yielded three runs - two earned - and seven hits in a season high-tying eight innings.

"Obviously the offense didn't do much," third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "It was just a wasted opportunity for him."

Gray induced 17 groundball outs and retired 19 of the final 20 batters he faced.

"He settled in really nicely, similar to what we've done here recently, which was pitch very well," Melvin told MLB's official website.

Gray will try to help Oakland (83-61) get back on track following Tuesday's 4-3 loss. The A's, who had won three straight and 11 of their previous 14, couldn't get much going aside from Alberto Callaspo's two-run homer.

The A's still remain two games ahead of second-place Texas, which also lost Tuesday.

Minnesota (63-80) has followed a 10-game home losing streak by posting back-to-back wins there. Josh Willingham went deep twice to snap an 0-for-15 slump and a 21-game homerless drought.

"Obviously he feels a little bit better," manager Ron Gardenhire said of Willingham, who spent 2011 with the A's. "So that was nice to see him get that, he needed to get a smile on his face. It's been a battle for him."

Willingham has hit safely in nine of 10 games against his former team, going 15 for 37 (.405) with seven homers and 17 RBIs.

The Twins now give the ball to Mike Pelfrey (5-11, 4.97). The right-hander, who went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in six starts last month, saw his woes resume Friday in a 6-5 loss to Toronto. He allowed all six runs in six innings, including five in the third.

"I felt like it was kind of a wasted day," he said. "I thought my stuff was good, but I didn't make enough quality pitches in the third inning and they kicked my butt. I guess you tip your cap, because I went out there and gave it everything I have and they beat me. But that third inning can't happen and ended up being the ballgame."

Pelfrey is 0-5 with a 5.85 ERA in his last 11 home starts.

While he has never faced Oakland, Pelfrey has struggled against Seth Smith, who is 6 for 13 with a homer, a double and a triple in their matchups. Chris Young is 7 for 21 with two extra-base hits.

Fellow outfielder Yoenis Cespedes could also give him trouble. He's 14 for 35 (.400) with two homers and five RBIs in nine games this month.