May 10, 2014

The Oakland Athletics' pitching staff has been the AL's best, and they now turn to their top starter through the first five weeks to try and continue their most impressive run this season.

Sonny Gray takes the mound as the A's host the Washington Nationals on Saturday night with hopes of wrapping up a series victory and putting up another zero in the second of a three-game set.

After Friday's 8-0 series-opening win, Oakland (21-15) has turned in consecutive shutouts on just six hits. The A's last posted three straight shutouts in August 1996.

With 18 straight scoreless innings, their AL-best team ERA is down to 2.97, and they're holding opponents to an MLB-low .221 average.

They supported starter Tommy Milone on Friday with home runs from John Jaso, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes. Jaso was hitting leadoff for the injured Coco Crisp, while Moss and Cespedes went back-to-back in the fifth inning on consecutive pitches. Cespedes has homered in three of four games.

Gray (4-1, 1.91 ERA) has an ERA that's tied for second-best in the AL, matching Toronto's Mark Buehrle and trailing only Detroit's Max Scherzer (1.72).

It took a slight bump in a 3-2 win in Boston on Sunday in which he allowed two runs on six hits in six innings while not factoring into the decision, though he's still yet to allow over three runs in a start this season.

"It's about getting guys out and winning games," Gray told the team's official website. "I have high expectations of myself, and every time I take the mound, it's fun. I love my start day. I look forward to it the whole week."

And the A's have come to rely on it, going 10-3 with the 24-year-old on the mound since Aug. 31 - a stretch in which he's gone 8-2 with a 2.07 ERA.

"He goes out and does his thing," manager Bob Melvin said. "The sky is the limit for him. He's come a long way in a short amount of time. He keeps getting better and better."

He's never made an interleague start, though the Nationals (19-16) haven't been all that difficult to get out lately with 12 runs scored and a .223 average while going 2-4 over their last six games.

Washington will turn to Tanner Roark (2-1, 4.17), who's never faced Oakland but is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 11 1-3 innings of interleague work.

"I know they have some power, and I know they have some guys that hit the ball all over the park," the right-hander told the team's official website. "Just got to keep your ball down and hit your spots."

Roark was well deserving of his first loss Saturday, surrendering seven runs on seven hits - including two home runs - in four innings of a 7-2 defeat in Philadelphia that marked the worst start of his young career.

"I didn't have command of my fastball," he said. "That's my bread and butter. When you don't have command of that and the ball is up, it goes a long way. That's what happened tonight."

Crisp missed the series opener with a strained neck and is expected to sit Saturday as well, though he's considered day to day.

Nationals outfielder Nate McLouth is expected to start Saturday after cutting his right hand while making a diving catch Monday. He's been out of the lineup since, but he's 0 for his last 13 and batting .085 in place of the injured Bryce Harper.

The A's are 4-0 against the Nationals in Oakland.

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