SAN FRANCISCO – The A’s are a team in serious need of a pick-me-up.
With trade speculation swirling about which veterans might be shipped out of Oakland next, three days of baseball at AT&T Park did little to lighten the mood. With a 4-3 loss on Sunday, the A’s suffered their first sweep at the hands of the Giants since May 2011.
Between now and Friday’s 1 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline, the A’s 25-man roster figures to change more. Lefty Scott Kazmir was dealt to Houston last Thursday, and utility man and No. 3 hitter Ben Zobrist is expected to go next. Other veterans perhaps could be headed elsewhere too if the A’s field offers to their liking.
The best time for the A’s to escape that distraction is the three hours or so they spend between the lines each day. But this weekend brought an imperfect storm.
While the A’s are reeling somewhat psychologically, their cross-bay rivals are surging. The Giants continued their red-hot roll in the season’s first installment of the Bay Bridge Series. They’ve now won nine of their past 10 and have pulled to within one game of the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West.
“We ran into a really good team at a tough time for our team,” A’s catcher Stephen Vogt said. “They’re hot, playing as good of baseball as they’ve played all year right now. And it’s been a crazy four days for us, thinking back to Kazmir’s (trade). Obviously now there’s more looming and we know that. Definitely dropping these three games made (the situation worse). It’s baseball, it’s the business. It’s the way it is. We just have to try to keep our heads clear.”
Along those lines, Vogt referred to this week’s quick trip to Los Angeles as a “two-day vacation.” After a day off, the A’s open a two-game series against the Dodgers on Tuesday. And if you’re wondering how two games against the current NL West leaders sounds like fun, Vogt’s hoping the mere change of scenery from the Bay Area might do some good.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Graveman hit hard, A's swept by Giants]
The A’s found themselves in an early hole Sunday as starter Kendall Graveman got tagged for four runs on seven hits and lasted just 1 1/3 innings. That led to a bullpen chain reaction that necessitated lefty Drew Pomeranz – Wednesday’s scheduled starter – being called upon for two innings of relief work.
That leaves him out of the equation for Wednesday. With no game Monday, manager Bob Melvin said the A’s will simply keep their other four starters on regular rest, with Jesse Chavez now starting Wednesday instead of Thursday. The unknown comes when the A’s need a fifth starter Aug. 1 against Cleveland.
Pomeranz would be on five days’ rest, but he still hasn’t worked his pitch count up to a starter’s workload, and he could be used in relief before then. Melvin said he didn’t yet know a plan for Pomeranz.
And since it’s bound to be a topic of discussion, consider Triple-A starter Barry Zito an option that day based on an every-fifth-day schedule. He last pitched Wednesday and could be perfectly on turn, though the A’s would have to add him to the 40-man roster.
That would provide a nostalgic thrill for fans, but a more important, long-term issue for the A’s is Graveman’s continuing development. After pitching lights-out for six consecutive starts upon returning from the minors, the right-hander has faltered in his past two, allowing 10 earned runs in 6 2/3 innings.
Vogt said Graveman’s rhythm and timing is getting out of sync with runners on base, a challenge he encountered when he struggled over four April starts.
The rookie said it’s his responsibility to hit the brakes on this mini-skid, and he’ll draw on his experience earlier this season, when he figured things out at Triple-A after the early struggles.
“I’ve got to continue to work, work in my bullpens, talk to my catchers, talk to (pitching coach) Curt (Young). What do we have to do to be better?” Graveman said. “I gotta go out and find a way to get the job done.”
Melvin and Jake Smolinski both said a miscommunication involving the signs led to Smolinski’s ill-fated steal attempt of third base in the ninth Sunday, when he was easily nailed with one out and two runners aboard.
Shortstop Franklin Barreto, rated the A’s top prospect by Baseball America, has a bone bruise in his left wrist that will keep him in a splint for three weeks and will sideline him longer beyond that. He was enjoying his best month with a .375 batting average in July.