Gray named Opening Day starter

Young righty Sonny Gray has been named the A’s Opening Day starter.

Oakland’s 2011 first-round Draft pick, who made his debut just last July, has only 12 big league starts under his belt. Yet two of them came on baseball’s biggest stage, against one of the game’s best, and Gray’s ability to go toe-to-toe with Detroit’s Justin Verlander in Games 2 and 5 of the American League Division Series played a significant role in manager Bob Melvin’s decision.

The 24-year-old Gray is the A’s ninth consecutive different Opening Day starter, the longest such streak in the Majors.

“He’s very quickly become that guy for us — whether it was last year in the playoffs or being the Friday night guy at Vanderbilt, he was always that guy,” said Melvin. “He’s not afraid of the spotlight, not that anyone else couldn’t do it as well. But we’re comfortable with him.

“Not only the poise, but the competitiveness, how driven he is, and we’ve seen it all spring long here too. Whether he’s throwing in a bullpen, pitching in a game, it doesn’t matter to him, he’s the same guy all the time and takes his A game out there and is prepared every single time.”

Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone will follow in the rotation behind Gray, who is scheduled to christen the A’s season with a 7:05 p.m. PT start against the Indians at the Coliseum on March 31.

“There’s a lot of excitement,” said Gray. “I’ve had a big smile on my face, and I’m just excited for the opportunity.”

Gray was 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA in 12 games, 10 starts, last year, striking out 67 next to only 20 walks in 64 innings. He limited the Tigers to three earned runs spanning 13 combined innings over two starts in the playoffs.

In other news, Melvin made official what has been speculated all along: right-hander Ryan Cook and outfielder Craig Gentry will begin the season on the disabled list. They will only play in Minor League games this spring, allowing them to be eligible to return from the DL as early as April 5. Fernando Rodriguez, on the mend from Tommy John surgery, will also start on the Dl.

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