- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
Oakland Athletics pitcher Sonny Gray is off to a strong start in 2014, with a 1.76 ERA in six starts, and his next scheduled outing is against the Boston Red Sox on Sunday. Because he's really confident and competitive, and because he's really not that tall, stories and anecdotes tend to follow him the way they do Dustin Pedroia.
Tim Corbin, his former coach at Vanderbilt, wrote that he has "many" stories about Gray, including these two:
1. "He invited Maggie, I and the girls [Corbin's wife and daughters] to his high school Christmas play his senior year [in Smyrna, Tenn.] How he invited us was a story unto itself because he said, 'I want you to come and bring my three girlfriends.'
"He was the lead in the play -- the auditorium was packed, and there was no way he could see us -- and I was messing around with my phone reading messages, then put the phone back in my pocket. About a minute later, my phone vibrates. I take it out of my pocket and it says, 'Dog, you're ugly, pay attention.' He had texted me from the stage while he was in the middle of the play. I showed Maggie the text right away and she said, 'He's going to be really, really good.'"
2. "When Pedro Alvarez came back to Vanderbilt in the fall after his first pro season, I introduced him to Sonny for the first time. He walked up to Pedro with that twangy Tennessee voice and without cracking a smile and said, 'I'm Sonny, I can't wait to strike you out in the alumni game.'"
There's also this, sent along by Bob Rose of the Athletics: "It is confirmed that while he was at Vandy, he heard about JaMarcus Russell throwing a football 70 yards from his knees. So I guess Sonny did the same thing with a football the next day on the football field."
There will be many, many more stories on Sonny Gray to come in the years ahead.
Around the league
• On Thursday's Baseball Tonight podcast, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski talked about Max Scherzer's strong start and what Detroit saw in Robbie Ray, and Keith Law discussed the projected picks at the top of the draft and how the calendar may compel teams to wait on signing Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew. There are 34 days until the draft, and as each day goes by, the odds that individual teams won't consider Morales or Drew until after the draft -- when those teams won't surrender a draft pick in compensation -- increases.
Speaking of Gomez, John Fisher of ESPN Stats & Info sent this along: "Carlos Gomez had a breakout season last year, and it's continued in 2014. Gomez has always been a prospect with tons of ability, but he's showing that he's a legitimate 5-tool player."
* His .294 batting average would be a career high.
* His .356 OBP would be a career high.
* His line-drive rate of 21 percent would be a career high.
* His walk percentage of 8 percent would be a career high.
* He's fifth among center fielders in batting average since the start of last season.
* His .571 slugging percentage would be a career high.
* He's hitting a home run every 17 at-bats this season, which would be a career-best rate.
* He has hit 31 home runs since the start of last season, second among center fielders.
* He stole a career-high 40 bases last season.
* Only seven players have more bunt hits than he does since the start of last season.
* His .359 BABIP this season would be a career high.
* He has stolen 44 bases since the start of last season, second among center fielders.
* He has six home run robberies since the start of last season (nobody else in the majors has more than two).
* He has 39 Defensive Runs Saved since the start of last season, most among center fielders (and second-most in MLB).
* He has 4.7 Defensive Wins Above Replacement since the start of last season, most among center fielders (second in MLB).
* He has 13 outfield assists since the start of last season, tied for second among center fielders (and tied for eighth among all outfielders).
Some additional notes:
* Two of his six robberies have come in the ninth inning, both against the Reds last season:
1. July 8, 2013: Gomez robs Votto with two outs in the top of the 9th of a one-run game.
2. Sept. 15, 2013: Gomez robs Jay Bruce with two outs in the top of the 9th of a tie game. (The Brewers won on a walkoff homer in the bottom of the inning.)
* There have been 51 home run robberies the past two seasons, meaning Gomez has almost 12 percent of them by himself.
* Gomez is signed for this season and the next two for a total of $24 million, and he's only 28 years old.
Most home run robberies (since start of 2013 season)
Carlos Gomez 6
• The Marlins finished a tremendous series against the Braves, coming back, again, in the final game.
• The Red Sox wanted to play two games, so the Rays gave them two games -- and a doubleheader sweep.
• From Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info: Roenis Elias (pronounced eh-LEE-uhs, not eh-LIE-uhs) is the third rookie left-hander in MLB history to strike out 10-plus hitters as a visitor at Yankee Stadium.
Most strikeouts by visiting rookie left-handers at Yankee Stadium
2011: Matt Moore, 11 K's
Thursday: Roenis Elias, 10 K's
1925: Lefty Grove, 10 K's
Source: Elias Sports Bureau
How Roenis Elias answered the call (and won): He had an unhittable curveball. Elias threw 41 curves, netting him 11 outs, eight by strikeout, while yielding only one baserunner with it (via walk). The eight curveball strikeouts are the most by any pitcher in a start this season.
• The Dodgers pulled off a sweep of the Twins, as Kevin Baxter writes. From Elias: Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers reached base eight times in a doubleheader. He's the first Dodgers player to do that since Bill Buckner against the Giants in 1976. Jeff Keppinger and Alejandro De Aza of the White Sox and Jason Kipnis of the Indians are the last major leaguers to do that. They all did it in the same doubleheader last season.
• The Orioles had the pleasure of walking off a doubleheader sweep against the Pirates.
Moves, deals and decisions
• The Nationals need to toughen up, writes Thomas Boswell.
• The Phillies' rotation is not what it used to be, writes Bob Brookover.
• The Cubs and Cardinals are set to renew their rivalry. We've got them on Sunday Night Baseball, and Dan Shulman and John Kruk will be calling the game from the Wrigley Field bleachers.
• The Cubs have watchful eyes in their dugout.
• These are rough times for the Diamondbacks, as Dan Bickley writes.
• Giants bench coach Ron Wotus has stood the test of time.
• The Red Sox had a really, really bad day, as Alex Speier writes.
• The Indians have been bad, but it's still early.
• The White Sox have done just about everything right offensively.
• The Astros' bullpen has its share of problems.
• Here's what Ron Washington thinks about Fielder.
• It might be time for the Rangers to panic about Prince.
• Major League Baseball shook up its investigative unit.
• Could there be an unwritten rule about the challenge system?
• The Red Sox are really, really unhappy about instant replay.
• Here is some haunting footage from the 1919 World Series.
And today will be better than yesterday.
11dJeff Banister, Special to ESPN.com
12dBrayan Pena, Special to ESPN.com
15dMatt Buschmann, Special to ESPN.com
16dA.J. Ellis, Special for ESPN.com