OAKLAND -- This scenario is becoming all too familiar for Chris Bassitt. Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rays, the A’s right-hander allowed just one run while pitching into the seventh inning, and lowered his season ERA from 2.60 to 2.48. Yet he ended up on the short end of a 2-1 final score, his record with the A’s dropping to 1-5.
Bassitt has started nine games for the A’s this season, and has received one or zero runs of support in six of them. This is not the National League, where Bassitt could take a bat and try to help himself in the run department. Instead, for the majority of innings he has thrown this season, Bassitt has delivered every pitch with a reed-thin margin for error and little recourse when he has crossed it.
Manager Bob Melvin singled out one pitch Friday: A two-strike curveball to Desmond Jennings that Bassitt left "up in the zone a little bit," and that Jennings lined to left field for an RBI single. Of the 10 baserunners Bassitt allowed while admittedly batting a lack of command, that was the only one to score, but it left him on the hook for the loss when he departed in the seventh inning with the A’s trailing 1-0.
"Yes and no," Bassitt said when asked after the game if the recurring scenario is getting frustrating. "I mean, yeah. I mean, it just sucks. Want to win."
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Bassitt did set up that second-inning run with his own wildness. He hit Logan Forsythe to start the inning, and a wild pitch moved Forsythe to second ahead of Jennings’ single. He said that was characteristic of how he felt all night, starting even in the bullpen.
"Nothing that I was throwing was going where I wanted it to go," Bassitt said. "I don’t know if it was the off-day (Thursday) or what, but I was just extremely wild; effectively at some points, but it was not what I want."
Bassitt said his curveball was so unresponsive that he stopped throwing it entirely, and Melvin said it looked like Bassitt’s off-speed pitches overall were not his best. He got out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the fifth with a double play and stranded a leadoff double in the sixth. He loaded the bases again with two outs in the seventh by hitting his last batter, John Jaso, and got an assist from reliever Pat Venditte, who came in and got pinch-hitter Daniel Nava to pop out, preserving a one-run game at that point.
"Tonight he couldn’t really find it, but he was throwing strikes at least, getting swings," catcher Josh Phegley said. "When you’re a hitter it’s tough to be comfortable in the box when a guy’s kind of throwing all over the place. Still effective."
The A’s, who had won five straight at home and two of their last three in walk-off fashion, stirred in the ninth inning with three straight one-out singles against Tampa Bay closer Brad Boxberger. But Jennings’ homer off of Evan Scribner in the top of the ninth meant Coco Crisp’s RBI, check-swing blooper only cut the A’s deficit to one.
With the tying run on third and potential winning run on second, Marcus Semien flailed at a high fastball for strike three and Billy Burns flied out to left field to end a seven-pitch at-bat and the game.
It was not the A’s only scoring chance. In the fifth -- with Bassitt still in the game -- they squandered back-to-back two-out singles from Crisp and Semien when Burns struck out. In the sixth, they loaded the bases against Rays starter Drew Smyly with one out on three singles. Brett Lawrie struck out swinging, and reliever Brandon Gomes got Billy Butler to pop out to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
"We got our share of hits," Melvin said. "Obviously we couldn’t get a big one when we needed. We’re down the last at-bat, if we get a hit right there we can potentially win the game. We had some good at-bats in the last inning, but probably not as good earlier in the game."
Phegley acknowledged it was frustrating to waste a good outing by Bassitt, whose August 5 win against the Orioles remains his only one this season.
"That’s the story of the year, I feel like," Phegley said. "When we do get pitching performances like that, it seems like we can’t come through for them offensively."
The A’s rotation ERA of 3.18 remains the best in the American League and the second-lowest in the majors. Yet their starters’ combined win-loss record is now 40-46. As that number indicates, Bassitt has not been alone in his spotty run support, and he said fellow starters Sonny Gray and Jesse Chavez have helped him handle it the right way.
"They’ve really taught me a lot about, runs are going to happen," Bassitt said. "In the past, (Friday) would’ve been completely different, where the offense wasn’t really going and I was going to try do a lot more, trying to hold them to zero (and instead) giving up four or five, walking away even more mad than what I am.
"Tonight," he said, "was just aggravating in general."
* A’s pitchers have now allowed a home run in 15 consecutive games, tying the Oakland era record set in 1987. And Friday’s was costly, giving the Rays a two-run lead going to the bottom of the ninth. It was the 12th homer allowed this season by Scribner, which is tied for most among A.L. relievers.
Phegley tried to shoulder some of the responsibility for the home run and gave a detailed explanation of why. He said he’d seen Jennings hit a two-strike curveball from Bassitt for a single in the second and thought Jennings might be looking for a curveball, especially after seeing two fastballs early in the count. So he called for a fastball up, thinking that Jennings might chase it or -- worst-case scenario -- take it for ball two.
"I don’t’ think I gave (Scribner) a high enough target," Phegley said. "I don’t like to show it too early, because I feel like teams can relay that. I should probably just get up there and give him a target way up there. He hit basically where my glove was."
Jennings, though, wasn’t fooled.
"I was looking for a fastball," Jennings said. "I got beat in with a couple fastballs in my two at-bats before. I had a feeling at some point he was going to try to run a fastball in. Put a good swing on it."
The fastball Scribner threw wasn’t exactly in, but it was very hittable. It also wasn’t as high as Phegley said he’d envisioned it.
"I was just looking to expand with a fastball eye-level, and throw that curveball in the dirt after that," Phegley said. "But it didn’t get that far."
* One positive development for the A’s: Both Crisp and Lawrie returned to the lineup after missing several games with injuries and had two hits apiece. The A’s are going to continue to treat Crisp as day-to-day with his nagging pains, but Melvin said both "felt good tonight," and that both players should be in the lineup Saturday as well.
* Game two of the series has A’s right-hander Sonny Gray (12-5, 2.04) facing Rays right-hander Erasmo Ramirez. (10-4, 3.57). It’s a 6:05 p.m. start, with fireworks afterward.