OAKLAND -- Jesse Chavez’s final start of the 2014 season, before he was moved to the bullpen, was a loss in Houston in which he allowed three home runs. Since his return to the rotation this season, Chavez has done a better job of keeping the ball in the park -- but that nemesis resurfaced Friday night.
The Seattle Mariners hit four two-run home runs -- two against Chavez and two against reliever Evan Scribner -- to beat the A’s, 9-5. Staked to a 3-0 lead after the second inning, Chavez was done in by two pitches on a Fireworks Night at the Coliseum that started early for the visiting team.
After Mike Zunino led off the third inning with a single, Logan Morrison jumped a first-pitch changeup from Chavez and hit it over the wall in right-center. The A’s still led 3-2 when Kyle Seager singled with two outs in the sixth, bringing up former A’s outfielder Seth Smith. In a full count, Chavez threw a cutter low and inside that Smith lofted over the right-field wall to give the Mariners the lead.
"You don’t ever expect (a hitter) to swing first pitch," Chavez said of the Morrison home run. "But a good hitter like that, guys go up there with a plan, he executed and I didn’t.
"The other one shouldn’t happen. Get two outs, two quick outs, fall in a rut like that with Smitty, who’s a good contact hitter. He just made a good swing on a ball and got it out."
Manager Bob Melvin said the pitch to Smith was probably not located where Chavez had wanted it. Otherwise, Melvin said, Chavez "pitched pretty well." But the right-hander fell to 2-3 with a 5.00 ERA in his last six starts.
Chavez said he did not know whether Morrison simply guessed correctly on a first-pitch changeup, or if Morrison was able to read the pitch out of his hand. Either way, he said, "It’s something I can go back and look at, because there’s a lot of things that have been happening lately that shouldn’t be happening."
After posting a 1.93 ERA in six starts in May, Chavez had a 4.85 mark in five June starts, which included three of the five home runs he’d allowed on the season before Friday. He still entered Friday with the fourth-lowest rate of homers allowed per nine innings in the A.L., but saw that number jump in the loss.
Chavez said he has noticed a lack of movement on some of his pitches in recent starts and indicated he is still searching for the right fix.
"Just little things," Chavez said. "Little adjustments I’ve got to make that’s keeping some pitches flat in counts that they shouldn’t be flat, and things that I need to have action on -- especially downward action -- they’re not happening in some situations. I don’t know if it’s … mechanical inconsistency or mental inconsistency."
Chavez allowed nine hits in 6 1/3 innings, and induced a pair of double play ground balls to escape jams in the second and third. But just as quickly, two pitches undid that work.
* Scribner, meanwhile, has now allowed nine home runs on the season, most among A.L. relievers. Part of that is a result of his workload: Friday night was his league-leading 39th appearance. But Scribner has allowed five homers now in his last nine games, and Melvin acknowledged that "recently the long ball’s been his problem."
Both homers Friday came in the eighth, with the game still close at that point. Entering to face Nelson Cruz with a runner on first, Scribner threw an 0-2 cutter up that caught too much of the outer half of the plate, and Cruz hit it out to right-center. Later in the inning, Scribner gave up a two-run shot to Brad Miller on an 0-1 curveball.
Melvin said that with the cutter to Cruz, Scribner "just needs to get it off the plate a little bit more." Scribner said he would have liked to "bury (the pitch) down in the zone."
One of the more reliable relievers in the A’s bullpen early this season, Scribner has seen his role diminish among his recent struggles. His ERA was 2.01 on June 6, but has shot up to 3.56 over his last 12 outings. Scribner said he lost his fastball command for about a week around that time and started relying on his off-speed pitches, which hitters quickly picked up on. He said that issue is better now, but he’s still leaving the occasional fastball over the plate and "guys are crushing that."
"It’s really frustrating to go from going so good to struggling again like this," he said. "But it’s just the life of a reliever. Happens to everybody. All I can do now is try to come back and put it behind me."
Scribner said he feels physically fine despite his first-half workload -- his 42 innings is second-most among A.L. relievers. Melvin said that confidence could be a factor at this point, particularly with the home runs.
"That’s probably a fair assessment," Melvin said. "Some (pitches) up in the zone whether it’s a heater up or a curveball that hung to Miller. But you know at this point we have the guys that we know are going to pitch in plus games, and we have to have some of the other guys pitch in down games. He has the ability to pitch very well for us, he’s just going through a tough time."
* The A’s committed two more errors Monday night, a low throw by Marcus Semien and a grounder that kicked off Stephen Vogt’s glove at first base. That gives the A’s 20 errors over their last 19 games and 79 for the season in 83 games.
Semien and Vogt also turned a pair of nifty 3-6-3 double plays to help Chavez out of the second and third innings. Melvin has maintained all season that the A’s could be a good defensive team but need to make the routine plays, and this game was a good illustration.
* The A’s collected 11 hits in the game -- including two each by Billy Burns, Brett Lawrie and Josh Reddick -- but none of them left the yard. Mark Canha drove in three runs with an RBI single in the second off Mariners starter J.A. Happ and a two-run double in the ninth against reliever Carson Smith. The A’s, though, fell to 5-15 when facing a left-handed starter this season and lost in front of just their second sellout crowd of 2015 at the Coliseum.
* After five consecutive wins to close their last road trip, the A’s entered this homestand hoping to inch closer to .500 before a week-long trip leading into the All-Star Break. With Friday’s loss, they’re 3-5 and need to win the final two games to break even on the homestand. That won’t be an easy task with the Mariners starting Felix Hernandez and Mike Montgomery -- who’s thrown shutouts in his last two starts -- the next two days.
The A’s counter with right-hander Kendall Graveman (5-4, 3.47) against Hernandez (10-4, 3.05) in game three of the series Saturday. It’s a 1:05 p.m. start on July 4.