TORONTO —The same storyline repeated itself Sunday at the Rogers Center, and that didn’t equate to good news for the A’s.
Their starting pitching short-circuited in back-to-back losses to the Toronto Blue Jays, the kind of games we haven’t seen much of from the A’s this season. They fell behind early Saturday and Sunday, couldn’t hit their way back into it, and had their fate pretty much sealed by the middle innings.
Losing a three-game series to the Blue Jays isn’t reason to fret, especially when it comes on the heels of a six-game winning streak. Had you known the A’s would be 4-2 on this 10-game trip heading into the final four games in Detroit, you would have taken it in a heartbeat.
But Eric Surkamp’s struggles Sunday are reason for the front office and manager Bob Melvin to ponder a move when that turn in the rotation comes up again Friday against the Houston Astros. Surkamp got tagged for six runs on nine hits and, for the third time in four starts, didn’t make it out of the fifth inning.
“We look at things after every series,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We’ll put our heads together and see what we think going into the next one.”
To be fair, Surkamp’s effort Sunday was his first truly poor start out of the four he’s made. But it’s clear the bullpen is in for a long day’s work when he takes the mound. On Sunday, he was victimized by a four-run third. After allowing a homer by Ezequiel Carrera, who couldn’t have occupied much space on the A’s advance scouting reports, Surkamp gave up three consecutive run-scoring singles with two outs. Preceding those string of hits was an intentional walk to Troy Tulowitzki after Surkamp had fallen behind 3-0.
“Actually I felt like today I was more on the glove than I had been my first couple starts,” Surkamp said. “But I just got my ass kicked. That’s pretty much all there is to it.”
Until Sunday, Surkamp’s body of work made a decent enough case to keep him in the rotation. But now, the A’s must at least ponder the idea of giving someone else a crack.
Complicating matters: Triple-A Nashville had two games postponed by bad weather in the past week, and that threw off the pitching schedule for right-hander Jesse Hahn, the most logical candidate for a call-up should the A’s look beyond Surkamp. Hahn was held to roughly a 50-pitch limit Wednesday against Oklahoma City, and coming back Sunday on three days’ rest, he threw just 72 pitches against New Orleans.
Would the A’s consider him an option for Friday’s start against Houston given his recent reduced workload? Hahn’s line from Sunday wasn’t particularly impressive — 3 1/3 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 0 K.
Would the A’s be tempted to call upon lefty Sean Manaea, one of the majors’ top pitching prospects, who’s given up just three runs over three starts with 21 strikeouts? Manaea left spring training needing to work on his defense and pickoff move, and the A’s may want to give him more time to develop those parts of his game in the minors. He would need to be added to the 40-man roster.
The A’s struggles of the past two days also bring up a reminder of what we knew entering spring training: The starting rotation holds the biggest key to the A’s fortunes. The bullpen is proving to be sturdy, and the offense is rounding into form with Chris Coghlan, Khris Davis and others shaking off slow starts.
But the A’s need their rotation to hold steady until Henderson Alvarez is ready to join the active roster — probably in late May — and until Hahn and/or Manaea are ready to be contributors.
On Monday in Detroit, Kendall Graveman takes the mound looking to get the A’s back on track. The first task is not digging himself a hole and forcing his teammates to play catch-up all night.