Sonny Gray, Stephen Vogt a colorful campaign as A’s battery

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Source:   —  April 02, 2016, at 5:22 AM

The other was unceremoniously shipped to the A’s for cash, a catcher who spent most of seven seasons in the minors before recording his first major-league hit.

Sonny Gray, Stephen Vogt a colorful campaign as A’s battery

One was a first-round draft pick, a wunderkind right-handed pitcher who went from signing with the A’s to starting in the playoffs in less than two years. The other was unceremoniously shipped to the A’s for cash, a catcher who spent most of seven seasons in the minors before recording his first major-league hit.

One is a boyish, wiry 26-year-old who'd not see out of space at a senior prom, the other a stocky everyman whose crinkly eyes and affability would fit with someone much older than 31.

Yet together, Sonny Gray and Stephen Vogt have fit well sufficient to become one of the top batteries in the American League. Latest year, they were the only starting pitcher-catcher combination from one team to create the A. L. All-Star squad. This season, they figure to play vital roles as the A’s attempt to make better on their last-place finish in 2015.

“You could nearly declare they’re the captains – Vogt the Capt of the offense and Sonny the Capt of the pitching,” said A’s pitching coach Curt Young. “They’re guys that are large influences on our all team. And you’re going to construct a excellent friendship as time goes on.”

The success of the Gray-Vogt partnership, though, could hardly have been predicted five years ago, when Gray was a sociology major at Vanderbilt and Vogt toiling in the Tampa Bay Rays’ minor-league system. The two met for the first time in April two thousand thirteen. Gray was about to create his first start of the season for Triple-A Sacramento. Vogt had just been acquired by the A’s from the Rays, who'd designated him for assignment after spring training, and was tasked with catching Gray in his first game in the Oakland organization.

“I knew we'd just got a guy who’d been playing left field (with the Rays), and he was catching the following day,” Gray said.

“I didn’t know anything about him,” Vogt said of Gray. “Just love he was throwing to some left fielder, I was like, ‘I’m catching some prospect or whatever.’”

Vogt had arrive from a Rays organization wealthy in youthful pitching with names such as Matt Moore and Chris Archer. So he was interested to look how the A’s top pitching prospect would compare.

“From pitch no one, the second he started warming up, you could tell he'd some beautiful electric stuff,” Vogt said. “At that time he was nowhere close the polished pitcher he's now. It was definitely not simple catching him that time. But right far you could look the electricness of his stuff, his skill to miss barrels and to create weak contact.”

Gray threw six scoreless innings against the Las Vegas fifty-one that day, giving up two hits, walking three and striking out four.

“I was still so young,” Gray said. “I knew I could obtain out and compete, and I knew I'd excellent stuff, but as a pitcher I didn’t really know myself well sufficient to be able to tell a catcher. So (before the game) we just kind of went over the pitches I throw. We kind of learned myself, I guess, a small bit together.”

Vogt and Gray got to Oakland within weeks of each other that year. Vogt made his A’s debut June twenty-five and three days later recorded his first major-league hit – a residence running off of the Cardinals’ Joe Kelly – to click an 0-for-32 streak to start his career that began in a brief call-up with the Rays. Gray made his major-league debut out of the bullpen July ten, then made one more relief appearance before being placed into the A’s rotation.

Gray posted a two.85 ERA in tenth regular-season starts, but his introduction to the national baseball scene occurred in that year’s American League Div Series. In Game 2, Gray went toe-to-toe with former Cy Youthful winner Justin Verlander, holding a Detroit Tigers lineup that included Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez scoreless for eight innings with nine strikeouts. The A’s eventually won the game in the ninth on a walk-off single by Vogt, who'd caught Gray’s outing.

“I’ll never forget that night, the way he threw, the composure he kept against a guy love Justin Verlander,” Vogt said. “I could probably get you inning by inning if I really sat down and thought about it. It’s one of the better pitching performances I’ve ever caught – probably the best I’ve ever caught. He was on and making his pitches.”

“It was one of those games that was necessary for both of us just to obtain out there, be on a huge stage and just carry out and compete,” Gray said. “Not act love the stage is too large or too small, but it’s just another game and go out there and compete. And that’s basically what we did.”

Gray’s standing with the A’s was cemented days later when they selected him to start the decisive Game five over veteran Bartolo Colon. Vogt took a small longer to obtain established. The A’s left him off of their Opening Day roster in two thousand-fourteenth – manager Bob Melvin called it one of the hardest cuts he's ever had to make – but after being recalled June one, Vogt made such an impact that he was voted the recipient of the team’s annual Catfish Hunter Award, which recognizes contributions both on and off the field.

Since his return, Vogt has regularly caught Gray when healthy. Gray’s numbers with Vogt behind the plate compare favorably to those he's compiled while working with other catchers. Throwing to Vogt, Gray has a career 2.66 ERA; 7.three hits allowed average; 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings; and a .580 opponents’ on-base plus slugging percentage. In other outings, Gray has a 3.00 ERA; 7.5 hits allowed average; 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings; and a .618 opponents’ OPS.

“When you’re working with one guy the way these guys have for two-and-a-half, three years, you’re going to construct a excellent relationship,” Youthful said. “It’s just game experience. They’ve been through so many situations together. Whether you’re rolling in a game, or you've runners in scoring position, what does Sonny love to do? Stephen Vogt knows precisely what he likes to do.”

One thing Gray does more distinctly than other pitchers is vary movement on his pitches – particularly his fastball. Vogt said Gray can generate 3 or four additional inches of lateral movement to either side of the plate. Adding to the challenge of catching Gray is the additional movement generally comes without warning, Vogt said, portion of his “ability to create things up on the fly.”

“I think that’s where the relationship really comes in is I know beautiful much presently when he’s going to attempt new things,” Vogt said. “He’ll still astonishment me from time to time. But it’s nearly love he’ll see me in the eyes from the mound, and I’ll know what to call.

“He’ll have a thought in his mind and kind of stare at me a certain way, or he’ll give me a small sign that we have – we’ve never talked about them, they just kind of arrive about. You could probably stare at him the whole time and never look it. That’s the relationship you want.”

Gray said the physical aspects of receiving and blocking pitches are important, but he and his catcher also “have to be on the same page mentally.” Where some pitchers are notably reclusive on days they pitch, Gray prefers a steady dialogue during the game and between innings.

“I think it starts off the field and just with personalities,” Gray said of his rapport with Vogt. “He’s simple to speak to. He genuinely cares. And when you've that off the field, it kind of works, you can translate on the field because you’re both open to each other and kind of there really working for each other.”

Vogt worked for Gray in a different capacity earlier this spring: He babysat Gray’s 1-year-old son, Gunnar, on Valentine’s Day, allowing the parents to go out for dinner.

“He trusts me sufficient to babysit his kid, for crying out loud,” said Vogt, a father of two. “That definitely goes into our playing, as well. Our families are both close; our kids play together. It’s a lot of fun.”

It can be just as fun for the A’s and their fans to look Gray and Vogt working in rhythm, a case of symbiosis only accentuated by the markedly different paths its components took to form it.

“He’s wise beyond his years,” Vogt said of Gray. “I’m quite a bit older than him, but I’ve learned so much from him just about pitch-calling and competing on the mound. He makes me work on my receiving because I've to obtain better if I wish to be able to capture him, but also his competitive spirit only makes you more competitive.

“He makes me wish to get better.”

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