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A's-Tigers notebook: Gray ascends quickly to ALDS starter

The SportsXchange

OAKLAND, Calif. -- No one has to tell A's rookie right-hander Sonny Gray how fast he has come so far in his baseball career.

In the spring of 2011, Gray led Vanderbilt to the College World Series. On Saturday night, he'll start Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander.

Gray is good friends with Pittsburgh Pirates rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole, who pitched for UCLA in 2011, and the two touched base on Thursday night.

"He shot me a text and I was like, 'Man, this is weird, huh? We're both throwing a playoff game. Just a year and a half ago we were facing each other in college,'" Gray said. "He wished me luck."

Cole pitched the Pirates to a 7-1 victory on Friday afternoon over St. Louis in Game 2 of the NLDS, allowing two hits in six innings, to show Gray how it's done.

"It goes to show you, you just take it as another game, take it to doing what you've always done, like he did today," Gray said. "You don't have to be overwhelmed by the stage of it."

Gray said the key for him will be to "harness the energy and adrenaline that's going to be flowing" on Saturday. Facing Verlander, the AL's MVP and Cy Young Award winner last season, could make staying calm tough for Gray.

"He's a guy that going back two or three years ago in college, we were watching him pitch in the playoffs and watching him," Gray said. "It seemed to be that he was the only guy people were talking about. And I remember we were at some restaurant on the road and just watching him pitch and watching him throw 100 mph in the ninth inning. We were just like, 'Wow, he's very impressive.'"

Verlander back on track

Verlander posted a 13-12 record and 3.46 ERA during the regular season, far below his lofty standards, but he said he got back on track in his final two starts against Minnesota and Miami. In those games, he threw 12 shutout innings, striking out 22 and walking just four.

"We aren't robots, things aren't always perfect, and this is a season that opened my eyes to that fact," Verlander said. "The last couple of years came pretty easy to me, right from spring training. ... It was like, 'OK, my pitches are good, go from here.'

"And this year wasn't like that. I would fix something and that would cause a kink in the chain, and I would fix that. And it was a matter of getting myself to where I need to be. It was a year-long battle. I'm not going to lie. This is something I worked on from early in the season until a couple of weeks ago, and I felt like the last couple of starts were where I needed to be."

Cespedes update

A's slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who has been battling tendinitis in right shoulder, was in the starting lineup in left field for Game 1 on Friday night. Cespedes tested his throwing shoulder on Thursday and had favorable results.

A's manager Bob Melvin decided Friday to put Cespedes in left field after he told him his throwing shoulder still felt good. Melvin said having Cespedes in left instead of at designated hitter gives his defense a huge boost.

"He has a lot of range in the outfield," Melvin said. "He cuts down the running game out there. There is a lot more to his game than just the power portion. ... Defensively, he does a fine job for us, so any time we can get an added defensive upgrade out there, we're surely going to get him in the outfield."
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