OAKLAND -- Chris Bassitt said it was around 1 a.m. in Nashville when he received the call that the A’s needed him in Oakland on Tuesday night to start against the Rockies in place of the ill Sonny Gray. Bassitt tossed and turned until he got up for good at 5:30 a.m. to catch a 7 a.m. flight, and landed in Oakland in the early afternoon for a 7:05 p.m. start.
Having made his last Triple-A start four days earlier, Bassitt was pitching on short rest on Tuesday night in more ways than one. He held a potent Rockies offense to one run in five innings while battling a lack of feel for his off-speed pitches, yet was the losing pitcher as the A’s fell 2-1 to Colorado for their majors-leading 20th one-run loss.
"Eighty-five pitches is what we were looking at from him," manager Bob Melvin said. "I don’t know we could’ve asked for much more."
The A’s message to Bassitt last time they sent him down was to throw more strikes -- he had nine walks in 10 2/3 innings with Oakland -- and Bassitt followed that instruction on Tuesday. He did not walk a batter and said he "tried to just pound the zone as best I could and pretty much hope for the best."
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That, Bassitt said, was because "my off-speed was not there at all tonight." He got away with a couple of poor breaking balls, such as the high curveball that Ben Paulsen swung through for strike three to end the second inning. He did not get away with another high two-strike curve to Charlie Blackmon in the fifth.
The Rockies put the first two runners of the inning on base, but Bassitt retired Brandon Barnes on a fly ball to center and struck out D.J. LeMahieu. He got ahead of Blackmon, 1-2, but hung a pitch that Blackmon looped into shallow center field to give Colorado a 1-0 lead.
"It was a terrible curveball, I just didn’t execute at all," Bassitt said. "I don’t know why I honestly threw it. if I’m going to throw it, I’m going to need to bounce it. He’s way too good of a hitter and his bat’s in the zone a long, long time. It was a bad pitch and he made me pay for it."
Bassitt had escaped a two-on, two-out jam an inning before by striking out Wilin Rosario on a 97 mile per hour fastball. Bassitt had also hit 97 in the first inning, and Melvin said he was impressed by how Bassitt seemed to vary the velocity on his two- and four-seam fastballs.
The A’s impression of Bassitt is that his stuff will play as long as he stays in the strike-zone, and Bassitt said he has tried to remind himself of that at Triple-A. "That’s been my MO for my whole career," he said, "is don’t beat yourself and we’ll take the chance of someone else trying to beat you. As long as I don’t walk many guys, I like my chances."
Right now, the A’s rotation looks fairly solid, especially with Kendall Graveman pitching better as the No. 5 starter. But Gray needing to be scratched Tuesday illustrates the value of depth, and there’s always uncertainty with the trade deadline approaching. Bassitt said he tries not to concern himself with where he’s pitching and that, "as long as I’m ready to help them win, that’s all that really matters to me."
"For the most part, this is the best I’ve felt in a long time," he said. "What I’m working on is just pounding the zone with my fastball low, and everything else kinda works from there. Just continue that, and hope for the best."
* The A’s had their best chance to take Bassitt off the hook in the sixth inning, when they put runners on first and third with nobody out against Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa. A Ben Zobrist fielder’s choice still left them with second and third and one out. But Josh Phegley struck out and Brett Lawrie bounced into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
"When you have close games like that, low-scoring games, there’s usually one inning where you have an opportunity to get a big hit and break it open," Melvin said. "We weren’t able to do it."
De La Rosa, who earlier this month became the Rockies’ all-time leader in wins, has a 1.37 ERA this season on the road compared to a 6.81 mark at Coors Field. Stephen Vogt hypothesized after the game that having to make his home starts throughout his career in the thin air of Coors has helped De La Rosa become a craftier pitcher. Vogt said De La Rosa kept the A’s off-balance Tuesday by mixing speeds, keeping his changeup down and creating a lot of late movement on his pitches.
"A lot of splits, a lot of cutters," Melvin said. "Just keeps you off-balance and frustrates you with never giving you a good fastball to hit."
The A’s record against left-handed starters this season is now 4-14, second-worst in the majors behind only the Rockies (3-12). The A’s combined slash line of .242/.321/.363 against left-handers is not that much worse than their .266/.323/.411 against righties, but Melvin said they had expected it to be better.
"Some of the guys that we expect to be left-handed killers are actually doing a little better against righties at this point," he said. "Just overall numbers would suggest we’re having a tougher time against lefties. The lineup against righties seems to produce more."
* Colorado’s run in the fifth was set up by a Michael McKenry single that it looked like Lawrie might have a play on. The ball was hard-hit to Lawrie’s left and took a hop over his glove, giving the Rockies runners on first and second with no outs.
"We’re used to seeing him have a lot of range and make a lot of plays," Melvin said of Lawrie. "It had some over-spin on it and took a little bit of a bad hop. It would’ve been a heck of a play if he’d made it."
* The game’s decisive run scored on a wild pitch by Fernando Rodriguez in the seventh. Rodriguez also had five strikeouts in two innings, including striking out Troy Tulowitzki, Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez in order in the sixth.
"He pitched well," Melvin said of Rodriguez. "His stuff was good today, used his cutter, his curveball, varied his times to the plate, did a lot of good things. Just one ball gets to the screen. Obviously in a 2-1 game, that’s the second run, so it is tough."
The A’s also received an encouraging outing from Eric O’Flaherty, who retired the top of the Rockies’ order in the eighth and struck out Gonzalez to start the ninth. It was the first outing from this season from O’Flaherty -- who entered with an 8.25 ERA -- in which he faced more than two batters and did not allow a baserunner.
"He’s going to have to pitch," Melvin said. "He has the ability to get both right (handers) and left out. It was nice to be able to get him an opportunity and get some success."
* Melvin had no updates after the game on Sonny Gray, who was scratched after being hospitalized Monday night with flu-like symptoms. Melvin said he hoped to have more Wednesday.
The series wraps up with A’s right-hander Jesse Hahn (5-6, 3.47) opposing Rockies right-hander Chad Bettis (4-2, 3.56). First pitch at 12:35 p.m.