OAKLAND -- The A’s began Wednesday with hopes of a series victory. They finished it with another narrow defeat and another troubling pitching injury.
Lefty Scott Kazmir left after three innings with tightness in his throwing shoulder. Then Detroit left fielder Yoenis Cespedes lowered the boom on his former club with a three-run homer that beat the A’s 3-2 on a sun-drenched afternoon at the Coliseum.
Kazmir’s status wasn’t immediately known, but if he’s lost for any time it’s a devastating blow to Oakland’s hopes of turning around its season. He was relieved by Dan Otero to start the fourth inning, after walking three and striking out four in 47 pitches.
The A’s (17-32) last won a series back on May 1-3, when they took two of three in Texas. They’ve played seven series since then -- they’ve lost six and split one.
Their hopes Wednesday were dashed by Cespedes, who was an All-Star last year in Green and Gold before being traded to Boston at the deadline. He came up with two on and two outs in the fifth and went deep off Otero to turn a scoreless game into a 3-0 Detroit advantage. The A’s chipped away but wound up falling to 2-15 in one-run games, the worst mark in the majors.
A silver lining was the return of reliever Sean Doolittle, who pitched a scoreless sixth inning with two strikeouts.
A subplot of Kazmir’s injury is the effect it could have on the trade market. If the A’s don’t climb back into contention over the next month or so, a healthy Kazmir would be an enticing trade chip should Oakland decide to become sellers leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Starting pitching report
Kazmir had struggled to a 5.14 ERA in five May starts and walked 10 over his previous three outings. Whether his shoulder played an issue in those problems wasn’t immediately clear. But his command was off Wednesday, as he walked three in the second inning while managing to keep the Tigers off the scoreboard.
The A’s had their pick of poison in the fifth, with a runner on second, two outs and Miguel Cabrera batting in a scoreless game. They chose to walk the two-time MVP and bring up Cespedes. Dan Otero tried to shave the outside corner on a 2-2 pitch, and Cespedes got full extension and drilled a three-run homer over the left field wall. By the time Cespedes finally flipped his bat, he was nearly at the first base coach’s box. The slugger had been quiet in the series until that blast, entering the day 1-for-6.
Doolittle made his season debut in the sixth inning with Oakland down 3-0. He allowed a two-out single but notched two strikeouts in a scoreless inning. As expected, he didn’t resemble the flame-throwing lefty of seasons past. Doolittle’s fastball topped out at 90 miles per hour and consistently sat at 89. He also mixed in his offspeed and breaking pitches, something he worked on while rehabbing his shoulder injury.
It was a successful first outing, and Doolittle capped the inning by striking out Anthony Gose on an 89 mile-per-hour fastball after falling behind 3-0. The velocity may have been different. The triumphant yell that Doolittle released as he walked off the mound was very familiar.
At the plate
Oakland scratched out single runs in the seventh and eighth to nibble away at their 3-0 deficit. Stephen Vogt tripled in the seventh and scored on Mark Canha’s sacrifice fly. In the eighth, Marcus Semien tripled and came home on Eric Sogard’s groundout.
The A’s threatened in the ninth, getting the tying run to second with one out. But Detroit closer Joakim Soria struck out Brett Lawrie swinging and dropped in a nasty curve to get Semien looking to end it.
In the field
The A’s helped their cause early to keep the Tigers off the board. In the fourth, Otero caught Cespedes breaking early from second base and and threw him out at third. Before Cespedes homered in the fifth, Gose tried a delayed steal of second and catcher Vogt threw him out to complete a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play. Three batters later, Cespedes would break that 0-0 tie with one swing of the bat.
A crowd of 20,387 showed up on what promises to be a busy day at the complex, with the Warriors looking to close out the Western Conference Finals next door.
The Yankees pay their only visit to Oakland with a four-game series that begins Thursday. Kendall Graveman (2-2, 6.04) and lefty C.C. Sabathia (2-6, 5.47) match up in the 7:05 p.m. opener. Friday: Sonny Gray (5-2, 1.77) vs. lefty Chris Capuano (0-2, 7.36), 7:05 p.m. Saturday: Jesse Hahn (2-4, 3.69) vs. Nathan Eovaldi (4-1, 4.27), 7:05 p.m. Sunday: Jesse Chavez (1-5, 2.44) vs. Adam Warren (3-3, 3.91), 1:05 p.m. All four games will air on CSN California.