ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. The A's certainly had more problems Thursday night than starting pitching, but their first taste of life without Bartolo Colon wasn't pretty.
Tyson Ross, starting in Colon's place after Colon was suspended Wednesday for the rest of the season, was blitzed for five runs in the fifth inning, sealing Oakland's fate in a 5-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
It might not have mattered if the home team had not struck so big in that rally. Rays right-hander Alex Cobb (8-8) fired a four-hitter, and the A's were shut out for a major league-high 15th time.
But their immediate issue is filling the void left by Colon, who was handed a 50-game suspension for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone.
Colon had been the team's most consistent starter all season, and his veteran savvy loomed largest in big games such as the one Thursday, the opener of a three-game series between teams that entered the day holding the American League's two wild-card spots.
The A's (67-57) fell into a tie with Baltimore for the second wild-card spot, 21/2 games behind the Rays.
"That's a huge piece gone," A's second baseman Cliff Pennington said of Colon. "You saw what he did almost every fifth day. He went out there and gave us a chance to win every time he pitched, practically. Fortunately for us, we have depth at that position. Our guys are going to have to step up."
It's unclear who will step up the next time Colon's turn comes around, which is Wednesday at Cleveland.
It won't be Ross, who was recalled from Triple-A Sacramento for Thursday's start but is being optioned back to the River Cats, manager Bob Melvin said after the game.
Ross revealed that he will be groomed as a reliever upon his return to the minors, with an eye toward him joining the A's bullpen when rosters expand in September.
He is 4-13 with a 5.38 ERA in 21 major league starts since 2010.
Ross (2-9) has had trouble with command in the majors, and scouts have speculated that his unorthodox motion might be more effective if hitters see him only one time late in the game.
"It's kind of been one bad inning here or there this season that's gotten me," he said. "Coming in in a limited setting, I think I will have a chance to help this team win some games."
Melvin said a decision will be made in the coming days on who will start Wednesday. Dan Straily would have been the top choice, but he was optioned to the River Cats on Monday to make roster room for Brett Anderson.
Straily must remain in the minors at least 10 days.
The A's could move Brandon McCarthy up in the rotation and start him Wednesday, and because of Sunday's day off, he still would be on regular rest. But Melvin said the plan is to leave the rotation as is and give everyone an extra day off.
A.J. Griffin, on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder, made his first rehab start for the River Cats on Wednesday but allowed three runs and three walks in 21/3 innings.
That could leave long reliever Travis Blackley, with 11 starts this year, as the top candidate to pitch Wednesday.
A's general manager Billy Beane said he was satisfied with the team's internal options and probably won't look to acquire a starter.
Melvin said Ross' stuff looked good aside from his poor fifth inning.
"It was as good a stuff as I've seen him have," Melvin said. "His breaking ball was better than I've seen it. The changeup was better than I've seen it. One inning got out of hand, and he couldn't limit the damage."