Four games into the 2015 season, A’s manager Bob Melvin said he isn’t sure yet what to make of the roller coaster personality of his team.
“We’ve been feast or famine,” summed up closer Tyler Clippard.
The A’s settled for a split of their four-game series with the Texas Rangers, losing a 10-1 dud on Thursday afternoon. In their two wins, the A’s scored 18 runs on 25 hits and shut the Rangers out both times. In the two losses, the A’s were held to a combined two runs, with their lone run Thursday coming via shortstop Marcus Semien’s RBI double in the eighth inning.
“It’s four games,” Melvin said. “I don’t really have an answer for you on why we’re up and down offensively. I’m not sure yet.”
A partial culprit Thursday was the Rangers’ 24-year-old right-hander Nick Martinez, who scattered four singles over seven scoreless innings and promptly erased two of them by getting the next A’s hitter to ground into a double play. Martinez outpitched the A’s own 24-year-old starter, Kendall Graveman, who was making his first major-league start after arriving from Toronto during the offseason in the Josh Donaldson trade.
Graveman didn’t have a chance to settle in. He walked Leonys Martin to lead off the game and Shin-Soo Choo followed with a single. Graveman then appeared to have Martin caught too far off second base on a pick-off attempt, but he threw the ball into center field, allowing Martin to take third.
“I’ve gotta make that play,” Graveman said. “Get an out there and it changes the inning.”
Instead, Martin scored the game’s first run on Adrian Beltre’s chopper to third baseman Brett Lawrie. Lawrie threw home in time to get Martin, but catcher Stephen Vogt dropped the throw.
“I’ve got to catch that ball,” Vogt said. “No excuses.”
Prince Fielder’s single drove in Choo, and Beltre later scored on a sacrifice fly by Mitch Moreland to send Graveman to the dugout trailing 3-0 after his first major-league inning. Moreland added an opposite-field, two-run homer in the third inning and, after the first two Texas batters reached in the fourth, Choo skied a fly ball to right that just cleared the out-of-town scoreboard, giving the Rangers an 8-0 lead and ending Graveman’s day.
It bore little resemblance to what the A’s saw this spring from Graveman, who had a 0.36 ERA and won a spot in the rotation. Melvin said that unlike in spring, Graveman on Thursday appeared to be rushing his delivery, which led to him leaving some pitches up in the zone and not creating the customary sink on his fastball.
“I’ve got to stay on top of the baseball,” Graveman said. “I was getting more of the east-and-west movement instead of the north-and-south and the good sink. It’s something that I’ve got to stay on top of the ball for my sink to work.”
Vogt agreed Graveman’s fastball was running laterally instead of sinking, but Vogt also credited the Rangers’ hitters with “some unbelievable swings,” including on some pitches that were not mistakes. The Rangers hit four home runs, one from Beltre on a curveball from Evan Scribner in the seventh inning that was so low Vogt dropped to his knees to block it.
“I just think he was in fast-forward today and couldn’t slow himself down,” Vogt said of Graveman. “We’re not worried about him. Today’s a blip on the screen.”
The A’s would like for that to apply to everything about Thursday’s loss. They didn’t put a runner into scoring position until the seventh inning against Martinez, who neutralized an A’s lineup featuring five left-handed hitters by working the inside corner with his fastball to set up breaking pitches away.
The A’s used their fourth lineup is as many games with a different No. 2 hitter – the spot where Melvin said before the game they’re “still trying to find the right guy.” Vogt, Sam Fuld, Eric Sogard and Cody Ross have batted second for the A’s and Melvin said Josh Reddick could be another candidate when he returns from injury Saturday.
After playing strong defense early in the series, particularly in the infield, the A’s had three infield errors Thursday, including a dropped pop-up by Sogard in the fifth inng. It didn’t lead to a run, but it did lead to an appropriate quote from Melvin, who said that the A’s – for whom upgrading the defense was a priority over the offseason – “feel like we have a good defensive team.”
“Hopefully,” Melvin said, “this is against the norm for us.”