OAKLAND – Some games just don’t leave room for sugarcoating.
There was no positive spin to put on the A’s 9-3 loss to the Houston Astros on Saturday, nor on their recent overall play for that matter.
“We’re not playing very well here for the last five games or so,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Before that, we’d lose some close games but we were getting consistent at-bats, getting guys on base. We were swinging the bats well. And at this time, we’re not doing anything too terribly right.”
It’s still very early, and an 8-11 record leaves the A’s just three games behind the American League West-leading Astros. But Oakland does face its first serious roster question with regard to right-hander Kendall Graveman.
The rookie struggled for the third time in four starts so far and is having trouble missing the barrel of the bat. After getting knocked around for six runs on nine hits, Graveman’s ERA sits at 8.27, and he’s completed as many as five innings just once in those four starts.
“He’s a command guy that usually isn’t in the middle of the plate,” Melvin said. “Usually he’s on the corners with subtle movement, and he’s having a tough time finding that in the fashion that we saw in spring training. So it’s a little bit of a concern now.”
Melvin would not comment on whether Graveman would make his next start. But it’s tough to envision the A’s not making a tweak of some kind when his next turn comes up. Jesse Chavez looked sharp in a spot start Thursday, so he could conceivably slot in for Graveman’s next start Friday at Texas. Or, the A’s could start Chavez at some point during the upcoming three-game series against the Angels and give Jesse Hahn an extra day or two to recover from a blister before his return to the rotation.
Graveman, who won a rotation job in the spring while posting a Major League-best 0.36 ERA, gave an honest assessment of his struggles, as he’s done after each outing that hasn’t gone according to plan.
“I’m getting on the side of the baseball again, not getting on top of it,” Graveman said. “I’ve been working hard the past couple of weeks to get that movement back, and it’s just not showing up. It’s here one pitch, not there the next. Just early movement out of my hand instead of late. I’m really fighting to find that again.”
Graveman took Saturday’s outing hard. After his media session, catcher Stephen Vogt came over to his locker and spent several minutes chatting privately with him.
“He made so many quality pitches, and then all of a sudden one mistake, and he gets hit,” Vogt said. “Quality pitch, quality pitch … a mistake gets hit. Right now, he’s not getting the downward movement he had been getting when he’s on. He’s a hardworking kid and he’s gonna be just fine, if he can let himself just relax and not over-press.”
But the A’s current problems extend beyond one starting pitcher. Their 19 errors lead the majors, and the two they committed Saturday came in the same inning in surprising fashion. Gold Glove-caliber right fielder Josh Reddick dropped a routine fly ball, then left fielder Cody Ross also dropped a catchable ball.
Their bullpen is trying to steady itself after a shaky start to the season. And for the third consecutive day, the offense looked listless for most of the game. It remains to be seen how they fare for an extended period with second baseman/outfielder Ben Zobrist, their normal No. 3 hitter, out for more than a month as he undergoes arthroscopic surgery to trim a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Might there be other moves on the horizon? Worth noting: Speedy outfielder Billy Burns entered Saturday hitting .333 for Triple-A Nashville, on the heels of a very impressive spring.
The only certainty right now is the A’s must play better than they’ve shown the past three games.
“It doesn’t seem like we’re getting the consistent at-bats where, even if we don’t get hits, we’re making a guy work and getting some guys on, getting in decent counts,” Melvin said. “That’s not what we’re doing right now.”