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Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Francisco Liriano delivers during the second inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, July 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH -- The A's welcomed former first-round draft pick Sonny Gray to the clubhouse, then to the bullpen, and then perhaps to better things.

In the midst of a 5-0 loss to Pittsburgh tempered by a rain delay of almost three hours Wednesday night, the A's top starting pitching prospect at Triple-A Sacramento took over in the fifth inning with the club in a five-run hole and halted the bleeding.

Gray faced seven hitters, retired six of them, and showed manager Bob Melvin a slider to go with his curveball, changeup and upper-90 mph fastball.

The idea was to have Gray come up for a few weeks and just get the feel for what the big leagues is like, but there may be more that Gray can do.

"When you have stuff like that," Melvin said, "we'll make a spot for him."

By the time Gray got into the game, the A's were already in a hole, and he was asked to clean up the mess. To his credit, Gray did just that. He threw a 96 mph heater on his first pitch, struck out the first man he faced, Clint Barmes, on three pitches and set the side down in order in his first major league inning.

He wound up pitching two innings, giving up one hit and no runs while striking out three.

Nerves? It didn't seem like that in Gray's big league debut.

"I don't know what it was," he said, "but I felt more relaxed tonight than I've felt in Sacramento."

He had less time to warm up as a reliever, but that didn't seem to be a problem. Melvin brought two other relievers in the middle of innings, then brought in Gray to start the fifth so he wouldn't come in with men on base.

"I enjoyed it," Gray said of coming out of the bullpen. "It wasn't that hard an adjustment. I had a good slider and good location with my fastball."

It had been a whirlwind 36 hours for Gray, the former Vanderbilt right-hander taken by the A's with the 18th overall pick in the 2011 draft. He'd been awakened by Sacramento manager Steve Scarsone pounding on his hotel room door Tuesday morning, flew from Colorado Springs to Pittsburgh that night, then had to wait out a lengthy rain delay before taking part in his first big league game.

When he did, he looked as if he belonged. And if Wednesday's game was a loss for the A's, their sixth time being shut out this season, at least that much was a plus.

There wasn't much else positive for the A's in this one, particularly for starter Tommy Milone. He was out of the rain-delayed debacle after just 22/3 innings, the shortest start of his major league career. And he needed 80 pitches to get just those eight outs, giving up seven hits, two walks and three runs, all the runs in the third inning.

"Obviously I threw a lot of pitches in the third," Milone said. "They did a good job putting the ball in play. They gave themselves a chance to do some damage."

Milone pitched 81/3 innings the last time out and came close to his first big league shutout, but in large his recent games haven't been memorable. His last five starts have seen him go 2-2 with a 6.49 ERA, kicking his overall ERA to 4.24.

With a three-game set against the Boston Red Sox starting Friday in the Coliseum followed by a four-day break for the All-Star game, Milone could go 10 or 11 days before his next start.

"When you have a game like this, you want to get right back out there," Milone said. "But you like to have a break, so maybe I'll get the break and come back fresh and start putting up some quality innings."

  • Gray took over the roster spot previously owned by Dan Straily, who was the winning pitcher Tuesday. The A's don't need their fifth starter, which Straily is, until July 23, so Gray is getting "a chance to get his feet wet," in the words of general manager Billy Beane.

  • Three of the A's five hits came from leadoff batter Coco Crisp. The center fielder is hitting .267 after going 3 for 4, It's the fifth time this season he's had three or more hits in a game.

  • Reliever Jerry Blevins continues to struggle. In his last six appearances, the first man faced is a combined 4 for 4 with a walk and a hit batter.

    Friday's game

    Boston (John Lackey 6-6) at A's (Jarrod Parker 6-6), 7:05 p.m. CSNCA