Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray deserves to have his name mentioned alongside the elite group of ace pitchers in the American League West.
The 24-year-old made that much evident in his first three starts of the 2014 season.
And yes, the last-place Astros must awaken their struggling bats to knock off Gray when Houston opens a three-game series Friday night at O.co Coliseum against the first-place A's. In 2013, Houston went 4-15 against Oakland, 3-7 on the road.
In 19 innings, Gray, who began the season as Oakland's Opening Day starter, has given up just two earned runs (0.95 ERA) while striking out 19 and walking seven.
In his last start, a 3-1 win over the Mariners that improved his record to 2-0, Gray battled out of early trouble and allowed one earned run and five hits in seven innings. He struck out nine, walked two, showed a fastball in the mid-90s, and drew praise from Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon that should serve as warning to the rest of the division.
"You get a guy throwing that hard and getting his breaking ball over for strikes, It's going to be a long night. He pitched extremely well," McClendon said.
Why the early-season dominance?
"He has a tendency to tighten up a little bit when he has to," said Oakland manager Bob Melvin. "He's a tough competitor and he hates giving up runs. When he ends up with guys on base, he pitches like he has to."
Astros: Cosart cruising
Houston starter Jarred Cosart has a fastball that can hit 99 mph on the radar gun.
Yet, it was his curveball that helped the right-hander post a career-best eight strikeouts last weekend in Houston's 6-5 win over the Rangers. Cosart ended up with the no-decision, but he allowed just six hits and three earned runs in seven innings. He threw 113 pitches and walked two.
"It's kind of one of those things. Last year, the walks were too high and the strikeouts were too low," Cosart said. "Like I told everyone from the beginning, it was something I really worked on during Spring Training, and I just let everything take over and see how it works, and it has been paying off."
In 2014, Cosart is 1-1 with a 4.00 ERA and a 1.056 WHIP. After making his Major League debut last July, he posted an ace-like 1.95 ERA in 10 starts.
He'll likely need to conjure up another start like he's produced in his short career, especially given that the Astros have lost five of six while scoring just 13 runs in the last week. Only three Houston regulars are batting above .200 after Thursday's 5-1 loss to Kansas City, not including George Springer, who was just called up on Wednesday.
But Cosart isn't concerned about the Astros run support, he'd rather see how he stacks up against the two-time defending AL West champions.
"Any time we get in the division, it's going to be huge to try and win a series and scratch out any wins possible," he said.
A's: Lowrie remembers Springer
A's infielder Jed Lowrie played shortstop for the Astros in 2012.
He still remembers that spring camp, and the first time he saw top outfield prospect Springer. The Astros recalled Springer from Triple-A on Wednesday when they sent outfielder Robbie Grossman down to the Minor Leagues and designated for assignment pitcher Lucas Harrell.
"I don't think I saw him in a game, just in batting practice," Lowrie said before Wednesday's night's game in Anaheim. "It was enough to notice the tools he had. Incredible tools. He had all the ability in the world, and obviously he's continued to improve."
"I had to ask somebody who he was," Lowrie said. "I thought he was further along in the Minor League system."
• Oakland outfielder Coco Crisp was out of the starting lineup for the third consecutive game Wednesday with hamstring tightness, though he pinch-hit in Oakland's 12-inning loss. In 15 games against Houston last season, Crisp hit .339 with 12 extra-base hits and 10 RBIs.
• A's lefty Scott Kazmir tossed his scheduled bullpen session before Wednesday's game and said he "felt great." Kazmir threw six shutout innings against the Mariners on Sunday before being forced to leave the game with triceps tendinitis.
Adam Lewis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.