The six pitchers who have started the most games for the A’s this season are, in order: Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez, Kendall Graveman, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Hahn and Chris Bassitt.
Of those six, Gray is the last man standing. Kazmir is on another team. Graveman, Hahn and Chavez are on the 60-day disabled list, their seasons over. Bassitt has missed nearly a month with shoulder soreness, though he’s scheduled to start for the A’s on Thursday.
The result has been the dissolution of the A’s biggest strength. Their rotation owned the lowest ERA in the American League for much of their first half. But in their last 38 games, A’s starters have compiled a 6.18 ERA and a 6-19 record. Sean Nolin didn’t take the loss on Tuesday night -- but he was staked to an early 4-1 lead and couldn’t hold it, surrendering five runs in five innings in the A’s eventual 8-6 loss to the Texas Rangers.
The drop-off in rotation performance reflects both the injuries the A’s have sustained on their starting staff and a change in priority. They have filled some of the open spots with pitchers they’re trying to evaluate, such as Aaron Brooks and Nolin, who was making his fourth start for the A’s on Tuesday.
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In his four outings, Nolin, acquired in the Josh Donaldson trade with Toronto, is 1-1 with a 4.57 ERA. His outing Tuesday night was laborious - he threw 98 pitches in his five-plus innings and retired the Rangers’ side in order only once. Most of the time he was pitching in traffic, and it caught up to him in the middle innings.
Nolin allowed a walk and a single to start the fifth, and both runners scored on sacrifice flies -- one of which could have been an extra-base hit if not for a diving catch by center fielder Billy Burns. Nolin then gave up a single to Mike Napoli leading off the sixth, followed by a Mitch Moreland home run on a 2-1 pitch that tied the game at 5-5.
"The one he probably wants back is the one to Moreland," manager Bob Melvin said.
Nolin said the pitch to Moreland, with a runner on first base, was "a slide-step fastball, but just didn’t throw it where I wanted to. It was up. Trying to go in, maybe not even for a strike, maybe by the best, but it just got away from me."
The missed location was compounded by the fact that the pitch was clocked at 86 miles per hour. Melvin, though, said that relatively low velocity is not a point of concern, but rather the result of Nolin mixing up the speeds on his fastball. Nolin did hit 92 mph on a fastball to Prince Fielder in the fifth inning, but for the most part was in the high 80s.
Asked the A’s impressions of Nolin so far, Melvin said: "We like him. He’s thrown the ball really well so far … Good mix of pitches, seems to have good touch on the fastball, you’ll see one that’s 90, one that’s 86, he’s able to kind of plus-minus with it. Changeup, curveball, he’s pitched pretty well since he’s been here."
Nolin gave himself a modest review.
"Overall I’d say pretty good," he said. "Not the best tonight. I didn’t execute pitches that much, got behind in batters. Both people I walked ended up scoring, so walks kill."
Nolin missed the first part of this season recovering from offseason sports hernia surgery and also missed time at Triple-A Nashville to a strained left groin and strained shoulder. As a result, he had just 47 1/3 innings before being called up, and said that being able to finish the season healthy and pitching is "the biggest thing." He figures to get two more starts before the season ends -- chances to leave a favorable impression on the A’s going into 2016.
* If you somehow missed it, Tuesday’s big news came from the rotation: Barry Zito will start for the A’s on Saturday against the Giants, likely opposing his former teammate Tim Hudson. The A’s finally announced the decision after a week’s worth of speculation since Zito was called up, setting up a nostalgic reunion of the "Big Three," complete with Mark Mulder being on hand to throw out the first pitch along with Zito and Hudson as part of a pregame ceremony on Sunday.
One rationale against the Zito move might have been that the A’s are still playing in some meaningful games - at least to their opponents, as the Rangers currently are trying to hold off the Astros in the A.L. West and the Giants are trying to keep slim playoff hopes alive before a four-game series against the Dodgers next week.
A counter-argument might include the fact the A’s are piecing together their rotation now anyway due to injuries, and giving opportunities to prospects like Nolin and Brooks. The Zito-Hudson matchup was something Bay Area fans -- and some national media -- were clamoring for, and Melvin admitted after announcing the decision Tuesday that both he and general manager Billy Beane are excited to see it happen.
* This is how Melvin summed up Tuesday’s loss: "It wasn’t the best-played game in the world … At times we had good at-bats, at times we didn’t. At times we made good defensive plays, others we didn’t."
So, no, there weren’t many compelling storylines afterward. Reliever Drew Pomeranz took a comebacker off of his foot in the sixth inning but stayed in the game after being checked by a trainer. Melvin said as far as he knew, Pomeranz was fine.
"I didn’t hear anything afterward to suggest he’s not," Melvin said. "Probably going to be a little bit of a bruise tomorrow."
One high note for the A’s: Jake Smolinski and Marcus Semien hit back-to-back triples in the second inning. That gave the A’s 40 triples on the season, tying the Oakland-era record set in 1968.
A not-so-high note: With two more losses, the A’s will secure a last-place finish in the A.L. West. Barring a miraculous run, the A’s will finish the season having spent the final 142 days alone in last place, which would be the third-most in Oakland history.
* Game two of the series has A’s left-hander Felix Doubront (2-1, 5.05) opposing Texas right-hander Colby Lewis (16-8, 4.41). First pitch at 7:05 p.m.