PHOENIX -- Sonny Gray didn't have much problem throwing two strikes Saturday. Throwing the third one was an issue, however.

The A's starter was able to get ahead in the count against Texas in his first start of the Cactus League, but by his own admission started to be too fine.

Asked what he'd take away from this game, a soggy 2-2 nine-inning tie, Gray said "maybe after I got to two strikes, I tried to make my pitches too good.''

"I need to try and put guys away and not nibble,'' he said. "But I was able to make pitches when I had to.''

Gray, throwing mostly fastballs, showed the Rangers, a team he'd never faced before, his curve three times "when I needed to make a pitch.''

The right-hander wound up putting men on second in third in both the first and second innings, but both times was able to pitch out of it and left the game with 1-0 lead.

  • Billy Burns had a nice day for someone who wasn't in the original lineup.

    The 24-year-old outfielder got the call in center after noontime downpours socked Phoenix Municipal Stadium, leading manager Bob Melvin to give veteran center fielder Coco Crisp the day off after a 29-minute rain delay. The A's turned to Burns, who was with the Nationals until the A's picked him up in an offseason trade.

    By the time the day was done, Burns had two hits, including a bunt single, steals of third and of second, the only two A's runs scored and two men thrown out on the bases, one at third and another at the plate.


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    "If he doesn't play today, we're in a little trouble,'' Melvin said.

    The A's were most intrigued by the throws, because the speed part of Burns' game -- one of his hits was a bunt single he legged out -- is well known. In both cases, Burns got to the ball quickly, got in front of it, then let fly with an accurate if not particularly strong throw.

    "What really impressed us were the throws,'' the manager said. "He doesn't have a plus arm but gets in front of the ball and makes accurate throws. He doesn't look overmatched out there.''

    Burns, Washington's minor league player of the year after hitting .315 with 74 steals between Class-A and Double-A, said that before the trade of Jerry Blevins to the Nationals, the Nats had Burns working on ways to make him more difficult to run on.

    "That's always been a weak area for me,'' Burns said. "I've been working to get to the ball faster, to charge it and to be accurate.''

    Burns stole third as part of a double steal in the first inning, then stole second in the eighth and scored from third on a Rangers error.

    Asked the part of his day he liked the most, however, Burns said, "I was really happy with my bunt,'' only then adding, "I was happy my throws were on line.''

  • Craig Gentry hasn't appeared in a game for the A's yet this spring, and he really would like to.

    The desire to play was perhaps boosted by the fact that the outfielder's old team, the Rangers, stood as Saturday's competition. Michael Choice, the promising young outfielder the A's traded this winter to get Gentry, was in the Texas lineup.

    Gentry's persistent back problem hasn't entirely dissipated, and until it does, the A's won't have their probable fourth outfielder in a game. It will be at least another week.

    "I'm all right with it,'' Gentry said. "I'm keeping a good head about all of it. If this was the regular season, it would be a different story. But it's early in the spring, and there is lots of time left. What none of us want is for this to come back later.''

  • Lefty Scott Kazmir will throw on the back field at Phoenix Muni on Sunday and face hitters. That will set him up for a Cactus League start late in the week.

  • Catcher Chris Gimenez reacted quickly when the Ranger blew a suicide squeeze in the eighth, reaching around the batter, Jose Felix, to slap the tag on sliding runner Alex Castellanos.

  • Crisp said he expects to play Sunday. "The manager told me I'll be in there tomorrow,'' the veteran said. "No big deal.''

  • Melvin gave lefty Eric O'Flaherty two thumbs up after his throwing session on flat ground Friday. O'Flaherty, coming back from Tommy John surgery is likely to join the club midseason.

  • Fernando Rodriguez, also coming off Tommy John surgery, threw 40 pitches on the back field with Michael Taylor and Addison Russell hitting against him.

  • Ryan Cook did some flat ground throwing Friday and is on target to throw off a mound in the bullpen next week.

  • Yoenis Cespedes was the A's designated hitter again Saturday. Look to see him start playing in the outfield by the middle of next week.