OAKLAND -- A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez walked off the mound on Saturday evening wondering what had just happened.
It was the top of the third inning. Chavez had faced 15 batters and retired four of them. He had issued a career-high five walks, thrown just 24 of his 60 pitches for strikes, and put the A’s in a 5-0 hole on a night they were facing Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.
As Chavez left the game, he said, he was as perplexed as he was frustrated by results that didn’t reflect how he felt during the outing. He took some time to "process everything" -- and then he headed for the video room in the A’s clubhouse, where he said he picked out a flaw in his delivery that he hoped might explain his poor start.
Chavez said that during his delivery, "I was leaning back way too much when I started my stride down the hill." That had two effects. For one, it kept Chavez from generating normal downward movement on his pitches, especially his changeup. Secondly, Chavez said that in watching video of his outing from an angle behind the catcher, he felt like his leaning back was giving hitters more time to read the ball coming out of his hand.
"You can see the ball from basically 68 feet instead of 60 feet, or even shorter," he said.
That doesn’t necessarily explain why Chavez had such trouble locating his pitches. But he said several times the mechanical flaw was a "key" to his struggles Saturday, and he indicated it might be an issue he has gradually developed during the second half without noticing. Chavez has a 6.31 ERA over his last five starts, raising his season mark to 4.17.
"For something drastic like that to happen, it’s tough to pinpoint when you’re in the heat of the battle," Chavez said. "Just the way my stuff has been, it felt like it was all sharp. It was just wondering, what is going on with the results? And I think that could be a key. So me and (pitching coach Curt Young) will get back to it tomorrow and hammer this out."
Chavez experienced a well-documented drop-off in the second half last year and worked hard last offseason on building up stamina to avoid a repeat. Both he and manager Bob Melvin maintained Saturday that physically Chavez feels good going into the final month of the season. He’s at 151 innings, eclipsing last year’s career-high total of 146.
"He was pretty frustrated with today’s game because he felt strong physically, just the ball wasn’t going where he wanted it to, and he probably didn’t have as much on it as we’ve seen from him in the past," Melvin said. "But physically he feels good."
Lack of command and dip in velocity, of course, both may sound like effects of fatigue. Chavez further described his delivery issue as "kind of sitting like I’m in a chair, instead of using my legs and using the mound to my advantage" to generate downhill drive.
But Chavez also sounded eager to get back onto a mound and address the problem -- for which diagnosis is the first step.
"Against a good hitting team (in the Mariners on Saturday), you’ve got to tip your hat to them," Chavez said. "But at the same time, I think that was a key today."
* Falling behind by five runs with Hernandez on the mound is not a recipe for success. The A’s sprung for three runs against their longtime nemesis in the fourth inning, but were shut down after that in an 8-3 loss.
The narrative is well-worn, so here are the straight numbers: Hernandez is now 7-1 with a 2.60 ERA in his last starts against the A’s and 22-8 with a 2.64 ERA lifetime. At the O.co Coliseum, the right-hander is 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA in 21 career starts.
Mark Canha jumped on a high mistake for a solo homer leading off the fourth, and the A’s scored twice when Billy Butler chopped a single back up the middle with two outs. Stephen Vogt had two singles and is now 11-for-21 in his career against Hernandez.
Hernandez’s August ERA of 6.60 was inflated by a horrible start in Boston in which he allowed 10 runs in 2 1/3 innings. But last year’s Cy Young runner-up is now 16-8 with an ERA of 3.65 for a Mariners team that is six games under .500.
* Right fielder Josh Reddick started the game but exited before the third inning with an illness. Melvin said Reddick was feeling "OK" after the game, but questionable to start Sunday’s series finale. The illness was "enough to where he had to come out of the game -- and it’s tough to get him out of a game," Melvin said.
* Brett Lawrie hasn’t played much second base for the A’s this season, but he looked pretty confident ranging into shallow center field for a difficult over-the-shoulder catch on Kyle Seager’s flare in the fourth inning.
"That was a great play," Melvin said. "You can tell he’s starting to get a little more comfortable at the position, whether it’s where he positions himself, the (double-play) pivot, everything."
Danny Valencia’s production at third base has led to Lawrie getting more time at second, which Melvin recently indicated could be a preview of next spring.
* Sean Nolin will make his A’s debut when he starts the series finale on Sunday. Seattle will counter with right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (6-3, 4.22). First pitch at 1:05 p.m.