OAKLAND – As Josh Reddick took an inside fastball off his right shoulder in the sixth inning Saturday night and Yoenis Cespedes followed by drawing a one-out walk, a sellout crowd at the Coliseum began to swell and the Cleveland Indians infield gathered for a mound conference around starter Ubaldo Jimenez.
Saturday, back-to-back baserunners qualified as an event for the A's.
Josh Donaldson's single two batters later to drive in Reddick was their first hit off Jimenez, and the A's had just two more in a 7-1 loss to the Indians that dropped them to 1 1/2 games back of the Texas Rangers, who beat the Seattle Mariners 15-3.
The A's led the West by six games July 29 following a 9-4 win in Toronto. Beginning with a shutout loss to the Blue Jays the next day, they've gone 6-10 in their last 16 games while scoring three or fewer runs in seven of the losses.
"We continue to go back and forth a little bit offensively," manager Bob Melvin said. "We've got to grind our way through it and get a couple games in a row and start feeling a little better about ourselves."
The A's handed out Cespedes bobbleheads before the game and opened the gates for fans to see batting practice, with those who turned out early able to watch Cespedes hit several balls into the second deck in straightaway center, above the suite windows.
Those who arrived later didn't see much offense at all. The A's made Jimenez work – he walked five, hit a batter and threw 105 pitches in 5 2/3 innings – but couldn't capitalize until Donaldson's single. Melvin said he thought Jimenez was "effectively wild," staying out of the strike zone and making it difficult for the A's hitters to square up pitches.
"He throws a lot of off-speed for a guy that throws (his fastball) at 94 mph," Donaldson said. "He's just one of those guys that does not want you to touch the baseball. That being said, for the most part, we didn't."
Donaldson's hit knocked Jimenez out of the game, but reliever Rich Hill came on and struck out pinch hitter Chris Young to strand two of the nine runners the A's left on base in the game. The A's also put two on in the eighth against reliever Joe Smith, who got Coco Crisp – pinch hitting in his first at-bat in six days because of a sore wrist – to pop out.
"It's not a very good time offensively right now," said first baseman Brandon Moss, who struck out with two on in the sixth to contribute to a 1-for-6 night by the A's with runners in scoring position. "We've got a number of guys struggling, but we've won some close ones too.
"You don't tip your cap to a pitcher necessarily when you've got opportunities galore and not capitalizing, or you're missing pitches that are good to hit. But when a guy's mixing pitches well, keeping you off-balance, gets himself into trouble and gets himself out of it, then you do tip your cap."
Before seeing a pitch, the A's trailed 2-0. Right-hander Dan Straily struck out the side in the top of the first, but also allowed a solo homer to Nick Swisher, two walks and an Asdrubal Cabrera RBI single while throwing 31 pitches.
Straily walked four batters for the first time since May 15, but struck out seven and didn't allow another run until the sixth on back-to-back doubles by Michael Brantley and Cabrera. It helped Melvin save most of a taxed bullpen ahead of today's series finale.
Asked for the difference after the first inning, Straily said: "I don't know. Concentration was on keeping the ball down and I felt like I did that tonight. I just wasn't sure all the time where it was going."