With respect to Stephen Vogt’s breakout first half, the A’s top candidate for an All-Star nod right now is probably Sonny Gray. The right-hander has the lowest ERA in the American League at 1.74, and has given up two or fewer runs in all but two of his 13 starts. That includes Tuesday night, when the Texas Rangers managed a bloop RBI single and a solo home run against Gray in six innings.
And yet, a typically stingy performance from Gray went for naught, as the A’s stranded a procession of baserunners in a frustrating 2-1 loss at the Coliseum. The memory of a four game winning streak that peaked with a sweep of the Tigers receded a little further as the A’s suffered their fourth consecutive loss and fell to 3-16 in one-run games.
"There’s a lot of frustration," manager Bob Melvin said. "There’s a lot of frustration with a lot of things that are going on with us."
Gray threw 95 pitches in six innings but his outing largely boiled down to two. One was a pitch he executed -- a high inside fastball to Prince Fielder in the third inning that Fielder blooped into shallow left field for a two-out, run-scoring single.
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"Yeah, that was unfortunate," Gray said. "I made the pitch and it just kind of fell in."
The other was a 2-1 fastball to Mitch Moreland in the sixth that Texas’ first baseman hit off the green facing just below the suite windows in straightaway center field. That gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead and left Gray shaking his head after the game.
"(Tried to) throw a fastball away and just left it up, and he put a good swing on it," Gray said. "That was a mistake for sure."
Gray allowed a single to Joey Gallo but struck out the next three batters, his last three of the game. Gray has a 1.33 ERA in his last four outings and a 1.67 ERA in eight starts this season against A.L. West opponents. In his previous three starts against the Rangers, he had not allowed a single run. Tuesday, two were enough to hand him a loss.
"I thought he threw the ball well," Melvin said. "Gives up a bloop hit and then Moreland squares one up, gives up two runs. If that’s a bad game, we’ll take it any day."
And the A’s had chances with Gray in the game. Josh Reddick led off the fourth with a double against Texas right-hander Nick Martinez and took third on Ben Zobrist’s flyout, but Stephen Vogt and Billy Butler grounded out harmlessly. The A’s loaded the bases in the fifth with two outs, but Reddick grounded out on Martinez’s first pitch, slamming his helmet to the ground as he crossed first base.
Brett Lawrie struck out to end the sixth, leaving Vogt on second base. The A’s did not collect their first hit with a man in scoring position until the eighth, when Zobrist doubled and Vogt lined a single to center to score him. Butler promptly grounded into a double play, and Lawrie struck out looking to end the inning. The A’s finished 1-for-9 with men in scoring position and stranded nine runners overall.
"Yeah, it starts to wear on a team, but it also starts to wear on us individually," Vogt said. "I know there’s quite a few times I’ve come up in a situation and just haven’t had the at-bat that I should in that situation. You’re not going to execute every time, but you want to at least know you gave a quality at-bat and I did not do that tonight (in the fourth).
"Anytime that starts to happen, you put more pressure on your boy behind you. Billy goes up there trying to pick me up, do a little too much, gets out of his approach maybe. When you get the opportunity to get that run in from third, less than two outs, you want to do it for your teammates. And I wasn’t able to do that tonight."
Vogt cited his fourth-inning at-bat as "a huge momentum swing." But the bigger one may have been the A’s leaving the bases loaded in the fifth and the first batter in the top of the sixth, Moreland, doubling the Rangers’ lead.
"A couple big hits and boom, it’s 2-0," Gray said. "That was just a little bit too much for us tonight."
* While the A’s did put runners on against Martinez, Reddick’s fourth-inning double was the A’s only hit against him in six innings.
Martinez was 5-12 last season with a 4.55 ERA, but has been one of the Rangers’ better starters in 2015. He lowered his ERA to 2.65 in 12 starts and improved to 5-2.
"He did a good job of keeping us off-balance," Vogt said. "He’s smart, he knows how to pitch."
* Melvin was asked to explain why he pinch-hit Josh Phegley for Reddick in the seventh with runners on second and third and two outs. His answer: Phegley came in 10-for-19 in his last five games and the Rangers had a left-hander, Ross Detwiler, pitching with no right-hander warming up in the bullpen. Also, Reddick went into the game hitting .305 but .120 against left-handers this season.
"You have to do the best you can in a certain situation," Melvin said. "It’s not easy to hit for (Reddick), but Phegley’s been swinging really good, especially against lefties."
Phegley struck out swinging to end the inning.
* Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte made his Coliseum debut and pitched a scoreless ninth inning. All three batters he faced were right-handed, so what remained of a crowd of 14,617 didn’t get the full Venditte effect. Still, Venditte has begun his A’s career with 3 1/3 scoreless innings.
"He’s focused, he’s confident," Melvin said. "And he’s having a good time with it. First time in the big leagues, there can be some nerves involved. But he’s shown that it hasn’t bothered him. he’s just having a great time and he’s pitching well on top of it."
* Vogt was asked if the A’s fourth consecutive loss has the clubhouse concerned about a regression to their poor play of the first third of the season. Vogt said he would "like to say no," and pointed to the fact the A’s remain 9-7 in their last 16 games.
"I feel like we have to look at the big picture," Vogt said. "We’ve got to keep that perspective and keep that attitude, because as soon as you start saying, ‘Oh man, we’ve lost four in a row’ -- you don’t want to dwell on that.
"We played really well the last half of our last homestand and in Detroit. Obviously we want to nip this in the backside as soon as we can and get back on track. But at the same time, I don’t think anybody’s worried we’re going to fall back into how atrocious we were playing earlier in the year."
* The A’s will try to snap their skid in game two of the series Wednesday night. They’ll start Jesse Hahn (3-5, 3.51) against Rangers right-hander Yovani Gallardo (5-6, 3.54). First pitch at 7:05 p.m.