SEATTLE -- Sonny Gray hasn't exactly been dominant in the early going of the season, though he has been getting the job done.
The right-hander again found himself in more than one jam in Seattle on Saturday night, but at the end of seven gritty innings, he had just one run to his name, stranding six baserunners along the way with a career-high-tying nine strikeouts.
Josh Donaldson provided the power with a two-run homer in the first inning that gave the A's a lead they would never relinquish, and Gray left with his second win of the season -- and fifth straight winning decision since September -- in a 3-1 victory over the Mariners to even the three-game set.
Gray, who scattered five hits and two walks, has allowed all of two earned runs in three starts spanning 19 innings this year for a 0.95 ERA.
Yet, "we still haven't seen his best game yet," according to his manager, Bob Melvin.
"At times he gets a little erratic with his fastball, and a lot of times the ball has a mind of itself," Melvin said. "It'll cut, it'll sink, do a lot of different things, and that's kind of a strength of his, too, because you never really get a good read on his fastball."
"I definitely felt good tonight," Gray said. "I was able to make my pitches, but I still have to prepare myself better for the early innings and get in that routine, that rhythm early on."
The 24-year-old righty has allowed 26 runs in his career, and 24 of them have come in the first three innings of the game.
On Saturday he offered up back-to-back base hits to Abraham Almonte and Brad Miller to start the first inning, allowing Almonte to score on Robinson Cano's groundout. But that's all the Mariners would get off the youngster, who went heavy on a devastating fastball/curveball combo to keep them from cashing in on any more opportunities.
Seattle was 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against Gray.
"That's who he is. He does have a tendency to tighten up a little bit when he has to," Melvin said. "He fields his position well and does a lot of things to help himself. He's a tough competitor and hates giving up runs, and when he ends up with guys on base is making pitches when he has to."
Coco Crisp was back in the A's lineup for the first time since Sunday, leading off the game with a single and scoring on Donaldson's long homer to left field off starter Erasmo Ramirez.
Ramirez walked Crisp and Jed Lowrie to begin the third, and Crisp would score on one of two bizarre plays on the night, with Brandon Moss getting credit for an RBI single on a fly ball to left fielder Dustin Ackley, who caught it but failed to make the transfer. Donaldson had already instinctively ran back to first base, though, and Moss was called out for running past him.
Ackley again had trouble with a transfer on Yoenis Cespedes' fly ball in the sixth. But Cespedes realized too late he could reach base on the play and was tagged out while running back to the A's dugout.
"We're seeing some funny plays because your instincts take over, and now there are areas with replay and new rules where guys have to reteach themselves," Melvin said, "and it's going to take a while. Donaldson was just trying to get back, and now the umpire is saying no catch. You're going to see a lot of that this year."
"It's tough," Donaldson said. "I don't like it. I have a glove on my hand for a reason. If somebody catches a ball in their glove, you're out. I've been playing baseball for over 20 years now. If a ball goes in a glove, it's always been a catch to me. It makes it tough on a baserunner, when a guy is diving and you see it go in his glove. Your first instinct is to go back, not to watch him transfer the ball to his hand. It's chaos.
"It's going to be one of those things where you can't be aggressive anymore on the bases. You have to go halfway and you're going to have to watch it the entire time, and you might see guys get thrown out at the leading base because they can't get too far away from the other bag for the sheer fact they have to watch it the entire time. And some of these outfielders have really good arms, so them throwing it 120 feet is no problem."
The A's survived the chaos at least on this night, with lefty Sean Doolittle pitching a scoreless eighth with another out in the ninth and Luke Gregerson finishing it off for his first save in green and gold.