Catcher Stephen Vogt arrived in Sacramento on Saturday night after being traded from the Tampa Bay Rays' organization to Oakland on Friday. His first task as the River Cats' new catcher? Get to know Sunday's batterymate, Sonny Gray.
After being on the receiving end of the right-hander's six shutout innings in an 8-4 win over the Las Vegas 51s, Vogt quickly became a believer in Oakland's No. 6 prospect.
"He's not that far away," Vogt said of Gray. "He executed a lot of pitches in tough counts today, and made very, very few mistakes."
Gray (0-0) allowed two hits and three walks while striking out four 51s in his season debut. It was the right-hander's second start at Triple-A after starting one game for Sacramento at the end of 2012.
Las Vegas only threatened in the first inning. Gray allowed a lead-off single to Juan Lagares and threw the ball away on a pickoff attempt, allowing Lagares to move to second.
The 2011 first-round Draft pick (18th overall) collected himself quickly after that. He induced a flyout by Reese Havens, then got groundouts from Wilmer Flores and Josh Satin to end the first.
"I don't get nervous much," Gray said. "'Don't do too much,' is what (pitching coach) Rick Rodriguez keeps telling me. Today, I was able to do that."
Gray retired the side in order in the second, and after allowing two ultimately harmless walks in the third, he retired the 51s in order in his final three innings of work.
"I was a little shaky the first couple of innings, but then I was able to locate my fastball," he said. "I threw a lot of sinkers. I noticed (the 51s) were super aggressive the first three days we played them, and I was able to get a lot of ground balls from that."
The 23-year-old said he feels as good as he's felt as a pro. Midway through last season, he finally settled on a between-start routine and improved as a result in the second half. He carried that routine over to this spring and feels stronger for it.
"I feel much better coming into this season than I did last year," he said. "Now I'm just trying to go out there and make pitches."
Gray came out of college with a potent 1-2 combo of his mid-90s fastball and a power curveball. His changeup and command have been works in progress, but have come along since he was drafted.
"He can throw a good power four-seamer to both sides of the plate and has a sinker he can throw to both sides," said Vogt, who had never seen Gray throw before Sunday. "And his breaking ball is one of the better ones I've seen. It's a sharp pitch. Big and sharp.
"His change is still coming along, from what I understand, but he threw some good ones. If he can continue to develop that change, he's going to have a lot of success for a long time."
And Vogt knows what a big league pitcher looks like too. The 28-year-old catcher played 18 games for Tampa Bay in 2012, his first cup of coffee since the Rays drafted him in the 12th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.
"(Gray) is a great young guy with a great arm," Vogt said. "It took me a couple innings to see exactly how his ball was moving and stuff like that, but he absolutely pitched well today and I can't say enough about how well he threw. It was easy for me with how good his stuff was."
Vogt helped out at the plate too, going 3-for-4 with a home run, two doubles, two RBIs and a run in his first action in Oakland's farm system.
"Obviously, going out today, I wanted to show them what I can do," he said. "I was fortunate to get some good pitches to hit and catch a pretty good pitcher."
The win marked the end of a whirlwind 48 hours for Vogt, who had to coordinate moving himself, wife Alyssa and baby daughter Payton to Sacramento at a moment's notice.
"The craziness with the travel and meeting new guys and the people in a new organization, it's definitely a different experience than I've ever had," he said.
No. 3 A's prospect Michael Choice smacked a go-ahead grand slam in the seventh and No. 4 Grant Green was 2-for-4 with a double, a run and an RBI. Teammate Jemile Weeks was 3-for-5 with two runs.