Athletics have far higher expectations than AL cellar

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) At 26, Sonny Gray has a tough time considering himself the face of the Oakland Athletics.

That's a lot to carry for an ace starter who pitches every five days.

''I'm still going to be the same guy when it comes to everything,'' Gray insists. ''That's how you can have that consistency on and off the field. It's just being you, whether people like it or don't like it, it's not really your call. You don't want to change your personality or try to change anything that you do.''

Yet ask anyone around the A's and Gray certainly has the ability to lead a franchise in dire need of a big bright spot.

The right-hander has won 14 games in each of his first two full major league seasons.

''I've always had high expectations for myself,'' Gray said. ''Come in maybe being a little more vocal with the younger guys, but as far as for myself, don't look too far ahead, like I've always said stay healthy and get out there on the mound. Because if you can get out there every fifth day, the work and talent and everything should take over.''

He plans to pitch at about five pounds heavier this season, closer to 185.

Gray, manager Bob Melvin and the low-budget A's are projected to not only be at the bottom of the AL West but also among the worst in the entire American League.

''I like our team,'' Melvin said. ''We feel like we're in much better shape than we were last year.''

Oakland finished last in the AL West at 68-94 after three straight playoff berths.

''We have a bunch of new guys. The year didn't work out as a team,'' designated hitter Billy Butler said. ''It's one of those things in different areas we have a whole new look, we have a whole new bullpen, whole new basically team. The optimism's there. We have the talent to do it we just have to go out there and do it.''

Here are some things to watch for with the A's:

DAVIS' CHANCE: Khris Davis is eager for a new start out West after his trade from Milwaukee just before spring training began.

He provides some pop, too. Davis hit 49 home runs and has driven in 135 runs over the past two seasons.

''I'm here for a reason,'' he said.

DETERMINED BUTLER: Butler batted .251 with 15 home runs and 65 RBIs in his first season with Oakland.

''I always have better second halves, I just had a really bad first half,'' Butler said.

While he hit well down the stretch, Butler wants to bring his steady bat from opening day.

''Hopefully he comes out this year and performs well,'' Gray said. ''There's no doubt in my mind, I think he will. He's going to be a big part of this team if we're going to be where we want to be.''

REVAMPED BULLPEN: Oakland went 19-35 in one-run games, leading the majors in such defeats.

The A's went out and boosted their bullpen as a result - adding John Axford, Ryan Madson, Marc Rzepczynski and Liam Hendriks to give Melvin options leading to a healthy Sean Doolittle to close in the ninth inning.

''We had one area that bit us a little bit and first thing our front office did was go out and try to take care of that area,'' Melvin said. ''That was the major concern that we tried to shore up.''

Oakland's relievers owned the worst ERA in the American League last season at 4.63 and third-highest in baseball.

PARKER HURT AGAIN: In yet another devastating elbow injury, Oakland lost right-hander Jarrod Parker again. And he was headed for a third Tommy John surgery April 1 after fracturing his elbow on the 12th pitch of a simulated game at spring training.

Parker plans to rehab and try to pitch again.

SEMIEN'S DEFENSE: Shortstop Marcus Semien committed a majors-leading 35 errors in his first season with the A's last year, then worked tirelessly under infield coach Ron Washington to improve his fielding.

Semien hit .257 with 15 homers and 45 RBIs.

''The way we work, the way that I've learned to work on defense with Wash, has really made me more confident,'' Semien said.

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