OAKLAND – Having been a reliever for much of his big league career, Rich Hill knows the dangers of overworking a bullpen too much.
So even as A’s manager Bob Melvin claims that his left-hander is throwing the ball better each time out, the bottom line is Hill has to find a way to pitch deeper into games.
In two of his three starts, he’s failed to make it through as many as five innings, including Friday’s 4-2 loss to Kansas City.
“To not get through five and put the bullpen in the position I put them in is not acceptable,” Hill said. “I take full responsibility for that and it’s not something I take lightly.”
The A’s bullpen is one of the deeper units in the American League, giving Melvin plenty of options to cover multiple innings if his starter has a short night. Problem is, Melvin is having to do that too often, too early in the season.
“That is a bit of a concern right now,” Melvin said. “…. Overall, we need to get a bit deeper into games.”
Hill knows how to get swings and misses – six of the 13 outs he recorded came via strikeout. But when he’s also issuing walks and going deep in counts consistently, it combines to make for a laborious night on the mound.
Still, the A’s were within a run at 3-2 until Sean Doolittle gave up Eric Hosmer’s homer to center, the third homer Doolittle has surrendered in 5 1/3 innings pitched over six appearances.
Melvin and catcher Stephen Vogt each gave Hosmer credit for a great piece of hitting.
“No one hits that ball out to center here at night,” Vogt said.
But as rare an occurrence as that is, the fact remains that Doolittle isn’t fooling hitters right now, and it’s getting tougher for Melvin to use him in crucial situations.
Offensively, the A’s have now been held to two runs or fewer in six of 11 games. But perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope in that department. Vogt connected for his first homer of the season and enjoyed a three-hit night. Left fielder Khris Davis, hitting just .182, finally collected his first RBI of the season in his 10th game with a run-scoring single in the fourth.
Davis said he was proud to take the field on Jackie Robinson Night. He caught one of the ceremonial first pitches thrown out, as the A’s honored their African American “Franchise Five.” Vida Blue, Dave Stewart, Rickey Henderson and John “Blue Moon” Odom were all on hand to be honored (Reggie Jackson, the fifth honoree, was not).
Before the game, Davis also spoke frankly about his hitting struggles so far.
“I feel like I’ve been overswinging,” he said. “It feels as bad as it looks. I think I just need to settle in mentally and be ready.”
The A’s can only hope Davis starts to turn the corner offensively, providing a spark in the lower half of the batting order. And Melvin can only hope his starting pitchers quit forcing him to make an early trip to the mound with the hook.
“We’ve just got to find a way with a couple of our guys to cut the pitch counts down,” he said, “so we’re not covering as many innings as we are with our relievers.”