ARLINGTON, Texas -- Sonny Gray has become so good so early in his big league career that it can be easy to overlook that he's just 24 and he's just one calendar year into this whole Major League Baseball thing.
So leave it to catcher John Jaso, the man whose two-run homer gave Gray a perfect 5-0 month of July, to look at the big picture.
"He kind of used to be a thrower," Jaso said after the A's 5-1 win over Texas behind Gray. "Now he's learning how to be a pitcher."
Globe Life Park was Gray's classroom Saturday night, and for a man who said he didn't feel he had his command, he was clearly the most significant presence on the field. That's tough to say about someone who walks four and allows seven hits in 62/3 innings, but there was never a time when the Rangers were in danger of taking the game away from him.
Gray kept the A's in the game after Oakland got down 1-0 in the fourth inning. And when back-to-back homers by Jaso and Yoenis Cespedes gave the A's a 3-1 lead in the sixth, a new gear kicked in. None of his first 11 outs were strikeouts, but five of the next seven were as he assumed command.
"That's why he's one of the best pitchers in the league," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Gray. "He knows how to finish innings off. In the sixth and the seventh, he was on fumes. But he stood out there and got through those innings. And he has stuff, too."
Gray didn't have his prime stuff Saturday, but he dodged everything that could have been a problem, save for an RBI single in the fourth from J.P. Arencibia.
"I don't know if I amp it up with guys on base," he said. "I don't try to. You just try to make real good pitches with runners on base."
And he has plenty of pitches from which to choose. His mid-90s fastball has a little trick of late movement that makes it tough on both hitters and catchers. He's added a slider. His curveball is qualified nasty. And he's been able to go to his changeup more and more as the season goes along.
The result is a 12-3 record, tied for the most wins in the American League, and a 2.65 ERA. In his last seven starts he's 6-0 with a 2.10 ERA and for the month of July he's 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA.
"The numbers speak for themselves," A's manager Bob Melvin said, noting Gray's fastball will cut and dip unexpectedly. "It's tough to get a good swing on him even when you're in fastball counts. He can throw his breaking ball at different speeds any time he wants to and mixes in a changeup.
"On top of that, he's quite a competitor. He finds another level when he has guys on base. He's able to work his way out of some jams."
The offense was in something of a jam itself for the first half of the game Saturday, held to one hit through five innings. But Eric Sogard doubled with one out in the sixth against Texas starter Nick Tepesch and with two out Jaso and Cespedes hit back-to-back homers to right.
The first and third hitters of the seventh inning, Josh Donaldson and Josh Reddick, also had solo homers, giving the A's four homers in the course of six hitters and putting Gray in position to hand a 5-1 lead to the A's bullpen.
"We're in the position where we don't have to rely on one or two guys in the middle of the batting order," Reddick said. "It's great to be a part of when you've got guys one through nine who can leave the ballpark at any moment.
"But you've got tip your cap to Sonny for keeping us in this game as long as he did."
A's (Scott Kazmir 11-3) at Texas (Miles Mikolas 1-2), 4:05 p.m. CSNCA