OAKLAND – With every scoreless inning an A’s starting pitcher puts up, it lends optimism to a season that’s hardly gone as planned for Oakland.
Jesse Chavez turned in the latest stellar effort on the mound, holding Detroit to just an unearned run over eight innings Tuesday night. It wasn’t enough, as that unearned run proved to be the A’s undoing in a 1-0 loss to the Tigers.
Seldom can a game be boiled down to so little. A throwing error by catcher Josh Phegley in the first advanced Anthony Gose from second to third. Rajai Davis’ sacrifice fly scored him to give Detroit an early lead that would stand.
The A’s went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10 base runners. And it’s tough to decipher how they should feel after this one.
Should manager Bob Melvin be encouraged by a starting rotation that’s showing signs of truly rounding into form despite the continued absence of Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin? Or, does the fact that Oakland got such a dominant performance from Chavez and still couldn’t pull out a ‘W’ trump the good news?
Chavez has posted a 2.44 ERA but has a 1-5 record to show for it.
“His win/loss (record) isn’t even close to indicative of how well he’s pitched,” Melvin said. “To give us eight innings like that today against that lineup and give up one run, which ends up being on a sac fly in the first inning …. He can’t knock in runs. All he can do is pitch and keep the other team down and he did that.”
Consider: A’s starters have gone four games in a row without giving up an earned run, the first time that’s happened for this franchise since Aug. 9-13, 1928. If the A’s (17-31) continue to get quality starting pitching, they’ll maintain a chance of turning around their season.
But they can’t afford to keep wasting opportunities as they did Tuesday. They still aren’t getting the quality situational at-bats they need. In four of the first five innings, they had a runner in scoring position and one out, and couldn’t manage to push a run across against David Price.
“It just came down to us not getting a key hit when we needed to,” Melvin said.
It also came down to – what else? – a defensive breakdown. This one came early, as Gose stole second in the first and Phegley’s throw went wide right of the bag for the A’s 50th error of the season, 10 more than any other major league team. That advanced Gose to third and he scored on Davis’ fly ball.
Phegley was marvelous from that point on, nailing three runners trying to steal second, including the speedy Yoenis Cespedes and the ultra-speedy Rajai Davis. But the first-inning throw was the one he was left explaining. Phegley said he didn’t initially have a great grip on the ball and the throw tailed on him.
It wasn’t so terribly off target, but second baseman Ben Zobrist – in his first game back from knee surgery – couldn’t get it.
“I thought it was an OK throw,” Phegley said. “It was similar to the one we got (Andrew Romine) on. It was up the line. (Zobrist) got to the bag and his momentum was kind of on the base. I threw it toward the runner and I’m not gonna ask anybody to take a hard slide into the shins, especially a guy who’s in his first game back.”
So the A’s enter Wednesday’s rubber game where a victory means they win their first series since May 1-3 at Texas. They’ve played six consecutive series without capturing a single one.
The excellent starting pitching they’ve gotten is reason for hope. Now they need it to start paying off in the win column.