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WSH@OAK: Gray holds Nats to three runs over seven

Oakland's emerging ace Sonny Gray produced his eighth quality start in as many tries in his most recent outing, allowing the Nationals three runs on six hits and two walks with three strikeouts over seven innings.

It was the right-hander's first start since being named American League Pitcher of the Month for April. He's gone 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA in 54 innings entering Friday's matchup against the Indians at Progressive Field.

Gray's only career start against Cleveland came on Opening Day, when he settled for a no-decision after tossing six scoreless innings in a 2-0 A's loss. He struck out seven and walked three in the outing.

A's starters have posted a 1.17 ERA over their past seven games. The pitching staff also has the third-best combined ERA (2.99) in baseball, bested by only the Braves (2.59) and Padres (2.98) entering play Wednesday night. Oakland has 27 quality starts, including the eight by Gray.

"Starters tend to be close," said A's manager Bob Melvin, "and they definitely feed off of each other."

The Athletics' six-game winning streak came to an end Wednesday against the White Sox. Oakland enters the weekend series in Cleveland atop the AL West, while Cleveland is in the basement of the AL Central.

Unlike Opening Day, when Justin Masterson opposed Gray, the Indians will counter Friday with Zach McAllister. The big right-hander is 1-1 with an ERA of 4.91 in four starts against Oakland.

"I felt good overall," McAllister said of his last start, a loss to Tampa Bay. "I just left some balls in the middle and fell behind a few guys, and they were able to put some pretty good swings on it and get some guys on base. And then they did what they do, be aggressive on the basepaths and kind of cause some havoc."

In the lineup against McAllister will likely be Coco Crisp, who has missed the last week because of a neck strain. Crisp was available off the bench for an emergency during Wednesday's game, but Melvin said the team would use Thursday's off-day to make sure Crisp is ready to return Friday.

The Athletics did more than simply weather the storm without Crisp, who is off to a .260 start, 12 points below his career batting average. In his absence, they won six straight before losing Wednesday.

"We feel fortunate that [Crisp] has missed six games and we've won," Melvin said. "That's an opportunity for someone else to contribute, and that's the way we look at things here."

Athletics: Catchers Jaso, Norris providing spark in lineup
John Jaso and Derek Norris have combined to produce perhaps baseball's best catching tandem at the moment.

Jaso made his fourth consecutive start from the leadoff spot and homered in the injured Crisp's place Wednesday.

"He's getting some consistent at-bats with Coco out," said Melvin. "He has led off before and he's always profiled as an on-base guy, but now he's swinging the bat well, too.

"Those are the type of guys you don't want to walk, because you know that's what they normally do, and now when you throw the ball over the plate, he's hitting it. A lot of this has had to do with him being able to handle that leadoff spot and getting big hits."

Indians: Chisenhall earning at-bats
Lonnie Chisenhall has had his time on the field split between third base and designated hitter this season, but he has made the most of his chances to date. Facing mostly right-handed pitching this season, Chisenhall had a .361 average with nine doubles through 28 games for the Tribe. Indians manager Terry Francona said Chisenhall has been earning more starts.

"I think you're seeing a kid grow up. He's maturing," Francona said. "Last year, we had to send him to Triple-A. This year, we're trying to figure out ways to get him in the lineup. That's because of Lonnie. That's not because of us. That's him doing what you're supposed to do."

Worth noting
• When Jaso hit a leadoff home run for Oakland on Wednesday, after Gordon Beckham led off the game with a home run, it marked the first time since Aug. 30, 2002, that a game involving the Athletics featured a pair of leadoff blasts. Jaso has hit safely and scored a run in each of his last five games.

• Indians left fielder Michael Brantley exited Wednesday's game in Toronto in the fifth inning due to mid-back tightness and was held out of Thursday's lineup as a precaution. Francona said Brantley should be fine for Friday's game.

• The Indians have benefited from some strong pitching at Progressive Field to this point this season. Among American League teams, Cleveland ranked first in strikeouts (190), second in team ERA (2.88) and wins (12) and fourth in opponents' batting average (.234) at home, entering Thursday. Comments