OAKLAND -- In the early innings of Saturday's 7-1 A's loss to Cleveland, black smoke from a car fire started rising from the Coliseum parking lot, visible over the upper deck along the third-base line. In the ninth, two loud explosions startled a few players and what remained of a sellout crowd. Around the seventh inning, that crowd got about as loud as it did all night -- doing the wave.
In other words most of the excitement Saturday -- after the Yoenis Cespedes bobbleheads were handed out, of course -- happened off the field, with the A's doing little in the way of offense. They didn't get a hit off Ubaldo Jimenez until there were two outs in the sixth inning and they finished with three singles.
And yet they stranded nine runners. Jimenez was wild, walking five and hitting a batter in 5 2/3 innings, but A's manager Bob Melvin called it "effectively wild." He stayed out of the strike zone so much that the A's couldn't square up many pitches. Donaldson, whose single in the sixth drove in the A's only run, agreed that Jimenez pitched a stubborn style that worked.
"He throws a lot of offspeed for a guy that throws 94 (mph)," Donaldson said. "When he would throw a fastball he wouldn't throw it over the plate. He's just one of those guys that does not want you to touch the baseball. That being said, for the most part tonight, we didn't." As Donaldson added, though, what made it all the more frustrating for the A's was that they still had chances. They put multiple runners on in four different innings but went 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Not getting the clutch hit has been a problem over their last 16 games, in which they're 6-10 and have scored three or fewer runs in seven of the losses.
Melvin acknowledged the A's "continue to go back and forth a little bit offensively," and first baseman Brandon Moss -- who struck out ahead of Donaldson's single in the sixth -- seemed clearly frustrated when asked after the game if the A's should simply give credit to Jimenez tonight for a game well-pitched.
"I don't really know what to say to that question," Moss said. "Obviously you tip your cap to a pitcher when he pitches well or he's got good stuff. You don't tip your cap to a pitcher necessarily when you've got opportunities galore and not capitalizing, or you're missing pitches that are good to hit.
"But when a guy's mixing his pitches well, keeping you off-balance, gets himself into trouble and gets himself out of it, then you do tip your cap. It was a frustrating night. But move on I guess, you know?"
The last 16 games have coincided with the A's going from six games ahead of Texas in the West to 1 ½ games out after Saturday, with the Rangers beating up on Seattle -- and Felix Hernandez -- in a 15-3 win. So that has to be contributing to the frustration as well.
Melvin said he believes the A's have to "grind our way through it and get a couple games in a row and start feeling a little better about ourselves." Things can turn quickly, but with a stretch of 13 games after this homestand against teams with four of the five best winning percentages in the American League, the A's probably want to start turning it around sooner rather than later.
* Like Jimenez, A's starter Dan Straily was wild Saturday, just not as effectively so. Straily struck out the side in the first inning but also allowed a solo home run to Nick Swisher, two walks and an Asdrubal Cabrera RBI single. He didn't allow another run until the sixth and struck out seven, which did let Melvin finish the game without using his key late-game relievers.
Asked about the difference after the first, Straily said: "I don't know. Concentration was on keeping the ball down and I felt like I did that tonight. I just wasn't sure all the time where it was going."
Straily hasn't won a game since the All-Star Break, but he hasn't gotten much in the way of support either. The A's scored two or fewer runs with Straily in the game in all six of his starts since the break, including zero runs four times. He left Saturday trailing 3-0 and was asked afterward if that may be making him feel he has to be too fine with pitches.
"I don't think it really does," Straily said. "I feel like sometimes you go out there and it seems like you're getting 30 runs a game and other times you go out and you've got to win the game 1-0. Right now it's just one of those times it is what it is. It's out of my control and I'm not going to worry about it."
* You'll be seeing the throw that Josh Reddick made in the fifth inning on highlight reels for a while. With Drew Stubbs tagging up from second on Michael Bourn's line drive to right, Reddick unleashed a throw from medium-deep right-center that reached Donaldson at third on a line and carried his glove right into a tag of Stubbs, with Donaldson making an athletic play himself to backhand the ball and avoid Stubbs' slide.
"It was right there," Donaldson said. "Anywhere else (Stubbs is) safe."
Melvin said that "not too many guys make that throw," which gave Reddick his fourth outfield assist of the season after he had 15 last year. Winning a Gold Glove can make teams less prone to run on you. But Stubbs has a reputation as a speedster, and the ball Bourn hit was not shallow.
"That arm right there," Moss said, "you're never going to be definitely safe at third or home."
* Saturday might actually have been one of the better defensive games the A's have played overall. Eric Sogard had a highlight-reel inning in the eighth -- he recorded all three outs on a diving catch up the middle, an over-the-shoulder grab ranging into foul territory and a leaping catch on Cabrera's line drive. And catcher Stephen Vogt became the first catcher this season to throw Stubbs out trying to steal in the second inning. Stubbs had been 13-for-13.
Vogt has now thrown out 6 of 16 would-be base-stealers since joining the A's. This one came at an opportune time for Straily. He'd just issued his third walk to Stubbs and had gone to a 3-1 count against Bourn, and pumped his fist emphatically after Vogt's throw. Straily then came back to strike Bourn out looking and pitched better from there.
"You get a play like that behind you and it fires you up for sure," Straily said. "He was perfect on the season coming in and I knew that, so I was just trying to be quick to the plate. And that's one of the times me being up in the zone definitely helped 'cause Vogt was able to get in position and throw him out."
* Coco Crisp pinch-hit with two outs in the eighth inning -- his first at-bat in six days due to his sore left wrist -- and flew out. Melvin said he felt comfortable sending Crisp up to hit left-handed and stay in to play defense, but Crisp still won't be in the lineup Sunday.
* In case you (somehow) missed this earlier -- the A's are planning to place Bartolo Colon on the 15-day DL with a left groin strain and recall Tommy Milone to start in Colon's place in Sunday's series finale.
That link has the details on the Colon decision and how it might affect the A's plans for bringing back Brett Anderson, who allowed two runs on three hits with three walks and two strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings in his first rehab outing for Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday night.
Briefly, a little more on Milone, who was optioned down August 3 after allowing six runs in 3 2/3 innings to the Texas Rangers the day before. Milone said that day the issue in his recent bad starts had been with command -- as he put it, throwing "quality strikes" and not just pitches in the strike zone, which due to his lack of overpowering stuff can turn all too hittable. He said he was doing a better job of that in Sacramento, where he allowed eight runs on 16 hits in 10 1/3 innings but also had 15 strikeouts and one walk.
"Felt really good," Milone said. "I was only able to get two starts in, but I felt really comfortable, throwing the ball where I wanted.
"It was a little less stressful environment, a lot more comfortable to work in, so that was a good thing."
Milone really hadn't pitched poorly in three of his five starts beginning in July, but A's seemingly felt he needed work and that they had a potential difference-maker in Sonny Gray, whose home debut on Thursday went about as well as it possibly could have. It'll be interesting to see how the A's handle their rotation in September, with Anderson on his way back and now the question of Colon's health at age 40.
* Rotation implications aside, Colon going to the DL means we won't see what would have been one of the more backstory-heavy pitching matchups of the season. Cleveland today is starting lefty Scott Kazmir, the 29-year-old former Rays phenomenon who made one appearance in the majors from 2011-12 and spent last year pitching for a team called the Sugar Land Skeeters. In 21 starts for Cleveland this year, he's 7-5 with a 4.18 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 114 innings.
* First pitch of Milone v. Kazmir at 1:05 p.m. -- or in a matter of hours.