OAKLAND -- When the season started, Oakland catcher John Jaso said that A's right-hander Sonny Gray was as tough a pitcher to handle as anyone he'd ever caught.
The A's are 60 percent of the way through the season after Sunday's 10-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles engineered by Gray, and Jaso said those early-season issues are no longer a problem.
Yes, Gray's pitches, especially his fastball, move across the strike zone more than most pitchers, but their direction is less mysterious for a catcher after seeing that kind of explosive movement a few times running.
Clearly that movement is still a mystery to the bulk of hitters with Gray lowering his ERA to 2.72.
"I'd say it's getting easier," Jaso said after Gray threw 62/3 innings giving up two runs, one earned. "Part of it is that his nerves have calmed a little bit, too, and he's pitching more and not just throwing.
"He's got a little method going now. He's thinking about setting up pitches and not just throwing the ball and seeing what happens.''
The Orioles had been one of the few teams to have beaten up Gray in his first 12 months on the A's roster. He'd faced them twice, both in Baltimore, and taken two losses and an 11.42 ERA.
If he was just throwing in those starts, that wasn't sufficient. On Sunday he was pitching, trying to think ahead of the hitters, and it worked as he ran his record to 11-3 with his fifth consecutive win.
"We put up a couple of runs early, I was able to take a deep breath and me and Jaso got on the same page,'' Gray said. "I felt good out there. I was trying to keep the same approach and making pitches.
"They got me twice (in Camden Yards), so I really wanted to get them today.''
Gray had back-to-back losses June 7 and June 13 against the Orioles and New York Yankees that dropped him from 6-1 to 6-3 and may have cost him a spot on the All-Star team. No matter. He has come back with a six-game stretch in which he's 5-0 with a 2.24 ERA. In four July starts he's 4-0 with a 0.96 ERA.
And if he sees the Orioles, the leaders in the American League East at the moment, in the playoffs, this is a game he can look back to.
"Sonny's been really consistent for us,'' manager Bob Melvin said. "You are always kind of nitpicking with him when he's not. He had a good curveball today. His fastball was moving all over the place. He got us deep into the game on a day when we had bullpen issues.''
The A's went through five relievers Saturday night when starter Jason Hammel could only get six outs, but none of those five was needed Sunday. And now the A's have a day off to get rested.
Gray is now 8-1 when he starts after an A's loss this season. He said keeping the A's headed in a positive direction is part of his job description.
"I really want to put up a good performance and try to get the team back on track,'' he said of pitching after losses.
It was clear he was going to do that Sunday when he didn't allow a hit until the top of the fifth inning, when J.J. Hardy's double to center field scored Chris Davis, who had walked.
By that point the A's already had a 4-0 lead against Baltimore starter Kevin Gausman, and three-run innings in the fifth and sixth put the game away.
The A's didn't hit any home runs, but this was the most explosive offensive performance by Oakland in a month. Before Sunday the A's had scored at least 10 runs in a game 13 times this season, but they hadn't done it since June 17.
Houston (Brett Oberholtzer 2-7) at A's (Scott Kazmir 11-3), 7:05 p.m., csnCa