OAKLAND -- Catcher Derek Norris said hes tired of fielding questions about whether As hitters are feeling pressure to perform at the plate, and wasnt interested in parsing through the teams recent offensive struggles looking for a hidden explanations. He said so in the wake of a 2-1 loss that was about as straightforward as they come.
The As hit one solo home run off Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. The Mariners hit two against As ace Jon Lester. Just like that, the As fell five games behind the Los Angeles Angels in the A.L. West -- with the Angels still scheduled to play this evening and find themselves closer in the standings to the third-place Mariners than the leaders.
The As have lost seven of nine and been held to one or zero runs in four of their last six games. In Lesters last four starts, none of which he has won, theyve scored a total of six runs -- four while Lester was still in the game.
"Weve got to score more runs," Norris said. "We cant bank on a guy, no matter who he is, Lester or Sandy Koufax you cant bank on these guys trying to go out and throw nine innings of shutout ball every time just to get us a win. Weve just got to be better offensively."
That was going to be a tall order Wednesday against Hernandez, whose dominance of the As in Oakland over the years is well-documented. With his eight innings of one-run ball Wednesday, Hernandez in his last nine starts at the Coliseum is now 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA dating back to April 1, 2011.
Hernandez was also coming off his worst start of the season, and Norris said, "You knew he was gong to come out and try his hardest to get back to his King Felix ways.
"And he pitched well," Norris said. "But weve got to get more runners on. And when we get them on, weve got to get them in. Whatever it is, what spark weve got to find, weve just got to find it and roll with it.
"No need to get real complex with it. Weve just got to put more bats on balls and find some more holes."
Dunns swing in the fourth on a full-count fastball accounted for the As only run and one of only two times they put a man in scoring position. The other was Norris, who walked leading off the third and advanced to second on Eric Sogards sacrifice bunt before being stranded there on groundouts by Sam Fuld and Josh Reddick.
The As described it as a standard showing from Hernandez. "Same guy," Norris said. "Doesnt really fall into patterns. He just stayed on location all day long, kep the ball down, kept the ball out of the air." Said manager Bob Melvin: "I think at times, maybe, he had a little better fastball when he needed it -- some 94 (mph), maybe a 95. But keeps you off-balance, so every time you think youre in a fastball count you get a changeup."
Lester was sharp as well, allowing seven hits with no walks, and said: "Give up two solo homers, I like my chances in just about any game." That he was locked in a duel against Hernandez, Lester said, was a non-factor for him on the mound.
"Ive got to worry about going out there and pitching my game to the best of my ability, and giving these guys a chance," Lester said. "If you keep these guys close against a good pitcher like that -- you never know. Weird things can happen."
But weird things didnt happen Wednesday. Just a tidy 2-1 score in a game where three swings accounted for all the offense, and the Mariners had two of them. The As are off Thursday, and Melvin said his hope is theyll return Friday "with some enthusiasm and positive thinking that our offense is going to come around."
"I think everyones aware of whats going on," Norris said. "I dont think anyones naïve to the fact that were not putting up any offense of late.
"We just need to be better."
* There wasnt much to nitpick about Lesters outing. In the span of three pitches in the seventh inning, he went from having a one-run lead to a one-run deficit. Kyle Seager hit Lesters 3-1 fastball into the seats in right field, and Corey Hart followed by hitting a 1-0 fastball over the wall in left.
Lester said the pitches were "a little bit" missed locations. The pitch to Seager, in a good hitters count, was "up-middle." The fastball to Hart, he "just didnt get the ball in. It was down, but it just kind of fell right into his bat."
Norris take on the Hart homer: "I think he just kind of guessed, because he hadnt really looked good all day long. Just swung to a spot and made contact."
Lester has allowed five home runs in seven starts with the As after giving up nine total in 21 starts for Boston before the July 31 trade. Still, he has a 2.59 ERA since arriving in Oakland. That his record is 3-3, again, indicates the support he has received.
"Came as advertised," Melvin said of the pitching matchup. "Usually with two guys like that, it comes down to one swing, and literally in this case."
* The As sustained another loss when Stephen Vogt came out of the game in the seventh with a sprained left ankle, which he suffered sliding into second base in the fifth trying to break up a double play. Vogt was hobbling around in a protective boot after the game, but said X-rays on the ankle had come back negative for a fracture.
"Obviously its going to be pretty sore for the next couple days," Vogt said. "It stinks. You never want to come out of a game, you never want to be hurt at this time of year. Hopefully its just a couple days and Ill be back at it this weekend."
Vogt said that as he went into second trying to break up the double play, Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano "had some fancy footwork and kind of tricked me which way he was going, so I tried to change directions last second and kind of clipped my toes on the ground, just kind of rolled the ankle over.
"He didnt turn the double play," Vogt added, "so I guess it worked."
Its a tough turn of events for Vogt. He has been nursing a bone bruise in his right foot for weeks, which has kept Melvin from using him at catcher, and now has the sprained ankle on the other side.
"Ill be walking even now," Vogt said. "Thats the way Im kind of looking at it."
* Dunns line with the As now reads: Three games, two starts, 4-for-8, two home runs, four RBIs. His homer off Hernandez was the 462nd of his career, tying him for 34th all-time with Jose Canseco. Next up for Dunn: Dave Winfield, at 465.
Dunn, of course, was brought in to jolt the As struggling offense and has been in their clubhouse for less than a week. Still, asked after Wednesdays game to gauge the level of panic he senses among the As right now, Dunn quickly answered: "Zero."
"Zero, and I think theyve done a great job putting the last five months in the past," Dunn said. "Obviously we have a day off tomorrow, which is huge. Get back to work on Friday and get on a good run."
* Theyll try to do so against the Houston Astros, which currently doesnt appear to be as sure a thing as one might think. The Astros are 16-14 since Aug. 1 -- the As, by contrast, are 12-18 -- and they took two of three from the As in Houston late last month. Theres also the added uncertainty for the As of how the Astros might strategize differently with interim manager Tom Lawless replacing recently fired Bo Porter.
On July 31, the day the As traded for Lester, they were 25 games above .500 with a two-game lead over the Angels in the West. Since then, theyve dropped seven games in the standings to Los Angeles, and could be 5 ½ out of first place by the end of play tonight. After another series loss, Melvin was asked Wednesday afternoon whether it has caused the As to shift their thinking from winning the division to simply holding the top spot in the wild-card race, which they currently lead by 3 ½ games over Detroit.
"What we focus on is winning a game, and thats what we have to continue to do," said Melvin. "Theres a lot of games left. You look ahead and look how many games youre behind, or whatever, it can be a distraction for you. So were all about winning Friday."
The pitching probables for the Astros series:
Friday: LHP Brett Oberholtzer (4-10, 4.39) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (4-4, 3.57)
Saturday: RHP Scott Feldman (8-10, 4.09) vs. LHP Scott Kazmir (14-7, 3.39)
Sunday: TBA vs. RHP Jason Hammel (2-5, 4.98)