OAKLAND -- Bounding off the mound after Carlos Santana’s slow chopper to the right side of the infield, A’s starter Kendall Graveman went into a head-long dive, speared the ball with his glove and threw Santana out at first base to end the first inning.
It was an instance of Graveman having to do it all himself -- and later served as symbolic of the rest of his night. Graveman took a shutout into the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians, and got the ground ball he needed to escape that inning unscathed. But an error resulted in his walking off the field in a tied game, taking a no-decision despite not giving up an unearned run.
And afterward, Graveman was left to discuss a 2-1 loss, as the A’s offense managed one hit for the first time this season. For the second straight night, they were handcuffed by a hard-throwing Indians right-hander, this time Danny Salazar, who himself allowed just an unearned run while sending the A’s to their seventh loss in eight games.
It was a waste of the outing from Graveman, who rebounded from three consecutive bad starts and looked more like the effective, cut-and-sink pitcher the A’s saw in May. At the beginning of this season, when Graveman was hit hard in his first four starts, the rookie was unable to adjust on the fly and was sent to Triple-A to clear his head. This time, with the help of the A’s pitching coaches, he figured things out without a scenery change.
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Graveman, who lasted just 1 1/3 innings in his last start in San Francisco, said his ensuing bullpen session in Los Angeles focused entirely on setting the catcher up in the middle of the plate and letting his pitches follow their natural movement to the corners.
"I think that was one of the things, I was trying to be too fine early in counts and falling behind, and letting hitters get in hitters’ counts," Graveman said of his previous outings. "That was really affecting my performance, and that was mentally one of the things, and physically, that we were working on this week."
The result Thursday was a higher percentage of strikes -- 67 out of 97 pitches -- and an ability to induce weak contact from the Cleveland hitters, along with six strikeouts.
"He was really aggressive in the zone today with his stuff and it was moving really well," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "He had good command, good movement, and he went right after hitters tonight and got some early outs, which is a good sign. He pitched his tail off tonight and should’ve gotten the win."
But he didn’t. With two outs in the seventh, Graveman allowed a single to Yan Gomes and Lonnie Chisenhall doubled to the left-field corner, moving Gomes to third. Danny Urshela then hit a slow chopper to shortstop.
Marcus Semien charged the ball, gloved it, and threw to first in time to get Urshela. But his throw carried up the first-base line and took Ike Davis off the bag, allowing Urshela to duck across safely. It was ruled an error, and Gomes scored the tying run.
"That’s a play that’s gotta be made," Semien said afterward. "I came in with a full head of steam there, and you know, it’s a game of inches. If I aim a little more to the left side of him, I get that out."
It was Semien’s major-league-leading 29th error, though it was also his first in 14 games. Manager Bob Melvin and Davis both said they thought the play should have been ruled a hit, with Melvin saying: "He went a long way to get it, it was an off-balance throw. So I was surprised when I saw error." Semien, though, said he had no qualms with the ruling.
"I mean, Kendall deserves that win," Semien said. "As a team we had one hit and we still could have won that game. If that play’s made, we get out of the inning. It’s frustrating on my part, because I know I can make that play. And I didn’t tonight."
After the error, Graveman walked Michael Bourn and was taken out of the game. Melvin brought in Fernando Rodriguez, who got Mike Aviles to ground out to preserve the tie. It stayed 1-1 until the ninth, when Chisenhall singled off of Edward Mujica, stole second, and scored when Bourn hit a one-hop, ground-rule double over the wall in right-center.
The top of the A’s lineup then went down on three groundouts in the bottom of the ninth against Indians closer Cody Allen, the last of 21 consecutive batters retired by Cleveland pitchers. With Carlos Carrasco’s complete game Thursday night, the A’s have totaled two runs on three hits in 18 innings this series.
"Anytime you waste a good start as a hitter, you get frustrated about that," Vogt said. "When you can’t give your boy two runs, he goes out there and gives up one unearned -- he should get the win for that. And we weren’t able to do that, and that’s frustrating."
* Vogt had said after Thursday’s game the A’s were facing one of the league’s better starting rotations in this series. You wouldn’t know it by the Indians’ 48-54 record, yet Carrasco and Salazar have both been impressive outside of just their lines -- mid-90s fastballs with sharp breaking pitches with which the A’s have done next to nothing.
"Electric stuff," Vogt said. "I mean, just another night, another guy in the mid to high-90s with good run. (Salazar) did a good job keeping us off-balance and staying out of the middle of the plate like Carrasco did last night. You look up and there’s three hits the last two nights, that’s pretty indicative of how they pitched."
Davis said he felt like he saw more pitches to hit Friday night against Salazar than he had from Carrasco, but credited Salazar with throwing a good mix. He said the percentages the A’s had on Salazar indicated he would rely more on his fastball, but he threw more off-speed stuff Friday night and was "effectively wild" in some hitters’ counts.
"And I don’t think we were swinging the bat too well tonight," Davis added.
Melvin was asked to assess the approach his hitters have taken the past two nights and answered: "It’s tough to say just an approach. I mean, we have a good idea how they’re going to attack us, and you do the best you can with it. But both those guys have pitched really well recently and pitched really well the last two nights."
Melvin reiterated Vogt’s frustration over squandering strong outings by Graveman and Chris Bassitt the past two games, as did Davis.
"It’s basically how the season’s gone so far," Davis said. "But there’s a lot of games left. Hopefully we can turn it around and start winning some games."
* Vogt went hitless in three at-bats Friday night and is now 0 for his last 21 and batting .163 (13-for-80) in July. Vogt is not the only A’s hitter in a funk, but he has certainly cooled offensively from the first-half pace that made him an All-Star. His batting average is down to .266, and he has four extra-base hits, one home run and seven RBIs in his last 29 games (112 at-bats).
"I’m struggling," Vogt said Friday night. "Jumpy, not very good pitch selection. I’m not getting anything to hit and I’m not being patient. It’s been a really bad month for me … Swing feels good, it’s not physical. It’s pitch selection and timing. Just got to bounce out of it."
The A’s offense relied so heavily on Vogt in the first half that it’s perhaps not surprising to see them struggling as he does. Vogt has spent much of the season hitting in the middle of the order but has batted seventh and sixth, respectively, the past two nights. There may be a fatigue factor at this point -- Vogt has already played in a career-high 96 games, and has made 65 starts at catcher after hardly catching at all last year.
Vogt, however, is not one to use workload as an excuse, and said the A’s recent stretch has been trying for everyone in the clubhouse.
"You look at the last week, week and a half, this has been a frustrating time for this team in all areas," he said. "But we’re professionals, and we’re going to keep it rolling, no matter what happens."
* The A’s finished July with a 10-14 record, their first time posting a losing record in the month since July 2009 (12-14). Their record in one-run games dropped to 10-25.
This series continues Saturday with right-hander Aaron Brooks (0-0, 6.23), acquired from Kansas City in the Ben Zobrist trade, making his A’s debut against Indians right-hander Cody Anderson (2-2, 3.26). It should be a big night for Brooks, who hails from Southern California and said he has a large group of family traveling up for the game.
The A’s, now 4-9 since the All-Star Break and looking like they’re still reeling somewhat from trading off some of their key players in the last week, need some kind of infusion of energy, and maybe Brooks can give it to them. First pitch at 6:05 p.m.