Rare is the day that Sonny Gray is off his game, and even when he is, he's usually still on.
That's because Oakland's ace has a knack for making up pitches, the unique ability to make a baseball do whatever he so pleases, and whenever.
Gray, readying for his third consecutive Opening Night start for the A's, this one a 7:05 p.m. PT matchup Monday against the White Sox in the confines of the Coliseum, is special in this way, as his two catchers can attest.
"He knows his plan, he executes it perfectly, perhaps better than anyone, but he also knows how to make adjustments," Josh Phegley said. "He can manipulate the ball to give his pitches different looks, so he's not always throwing the same fastball every time, and I think that's what makes him tough. He can do anything with any pitch, and it's pretty impressive to watch."
"He'll throw a pitch, and I'll hear the batter ask, 'What was that?'" Stephen Vogt said. "Sometimes I don't even know."
Vogt was behind the plate last May when Gray fanned nine batters in six innings. Seemingly nothing about this is particularly remarkable in the context of the 26-year-old Gray's career, except when considering the fact that two of the strikeouts were achieved with a cutter.
Gray doesn't throw a cutter.
"His curveball and slider weren't working," Vogt recalled, "so he said to me, 'Hey, I'm going to throw a cutter.' I'm like, 'Sonny, you've never thrown a cutter before.'
"And this is in the middle of a game, and he told me, 'I'll just throw one in warmups and see how it goes.'
"Of course it was a pretty good cutter."
After Mariners outfielder Nelson Cruz singled off Gray to open the bottom half of the sixth inning, the right-hander pulled out his newest toy, void of a warning label, and sent it past a frozen Kyle Seager for a third strike call. Logan Morrison could only stare at it, too, for another looking strikeout.
Cruz never budged. Gray struck out the side.
"Looking, on back-to-back backdoor cutters?" Vogt said, still in disbelief nearly a year later. "C'mon. That's a pitch that takes pitchers years to learn and to control, and Sonny, in a big situation, punched out two very good left-handed hitters looking with it.
"They both turned around and said, 'When did he start throwing that?' I said, 'Right now, this inning.' They just shook their heads and walked away."
These days, Gray keeps it in his back pocket just in case -- "It's always there if he needs it," Vogt says -- but gets by just fine with his typical repertoire. His 2.73 ERA was third best in the American League last year, helping him to a third-place finish in AL Cy Young voting, and the general consensus is he's only going to get better.
"He's truly incredible," Vogt said. "His competitiveness on the mound, his demeanor, his tenacity, just to sit back and watch the way he makes the ball move, it's really something else. It's a challenge to catch him, it's a challenge for everyone to hit him. You never know what you're going to see."
"Every time he's on the mound he gives us a solid start," Phegley said. "He's the rock of this staff, and he shows that every time. Guys just admire what he does on the mound and kind of rally around that. He brings the whole staff with him, and I think that makes everyone else better and everyone gets more intense, and I think that's what we need."