OAKLAND -- That disheartening, yet eerily familiar feeling felt in Oakland following another Game 5 loss to Justin Verlander and the Tigers was compounded by news that Sonny Gray had broken his left thumb.
That was three months ago. Gray has since relived that game through video. He's also had surgery to repair the fracture in his thumb, undergoing 10 weeks of rehab.
"I was just telling my mom about five minutes ago," Gray said Thursday afternoon from his Nashville, Tenn., home, "that I'm ready to go to Arizona right now. If I could, I'd get in the car and drive out there right now. I'm super excited to get started."
Gray was given the clear for all baseball activity nearly a month ago, and he's about a week away from ramping up his throwing program. The right-hander has already been playing catch for a handful of weeks, every day in fact, with throwing partner David Price.
The Rays hurler, like Gray, attended Vanderbilt University, and that's where they gather each morning at 9 a.m. local time alongside another 15 or so big leaguers, including the Braves' Mike Minor and Pedro Alvarez of the Pirates, to clock in for hours worth of strength work.
This offseason is the first of its kind for Gray, and that's because the 24-year-old is gearing for his first full season in the Majors. Last year, he walked into big league camp simply wanting to make a good enough impression to get a callup before season's end.
Gray would only have to wait until July for that to happen, and he's since gone from top prospect to ace in the making. That was clear when his name appeared on the bill for Game 2 of the American League Division Series, and again for Game 5. This after just 12 Major League appearances, 10 of them starts, and only two years removed from Draft day as a first-round pick.
Gray had turned in a 2.67 ERA in those games, with 67 strikeouts next to 20 walks in 64 innings.
"For him to know that we have confidence in him to produce in those situations, for a guy that was here for 10 starts, those are rare guys that you're able to bring up that quickly and have that kind of impact and see that kind of confidence right away," manager Bob Melvin said earlier this offseason. "It's pretty impressive."
Gray wowed the world in October, keeping pace with Verlander and ultimately beating him in Game 2, before the A's stumbled in Games 4 and 5. Still, Gray's performance was perhaps the biggest takeaway from the series.
"I watched both games when I came back home," Gray said, "and it was nice to see that and see yourself be successful. I still haven't really thought of it any differently than any other game, and I don't know if I ever will. I know my adrenaline was going so fast, but it never really sunk in that it was the playoffs and all. Maybe that's just how I deal with it."
Gray is set to join Jarrod Parker and veteran Scott Kazmir in leading an A's rotation that includes as many as five other candidates for the remaining two spots. A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily seem to be the favorites, but Drew Pomeranz, Tommy Milone and Josh Lindblom are also in the mix.
Gray doesn't exactly set personal goals at each year's beginning, but he did mention he'd like to ensure he remains in the rotation for the whole season.
The A's are more than on board with that idea.
"That's a great thought," said Melvin. "He was the crown jewel of all the guys in the Minor Leagues and came up and made an incredible impact right away. He has a very bright future ahead of him."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less