OAKLAND – The A's Opening Day starter hasn't thrown in the majors since April, and they will enter September, in the thick of a division race, with their 14-game winner and lone All-Star on the disabled list. Yet manager Bob Melvin sat in the A's dugout Tuesday and, when asked about his rotation, looked like the picture of calm.
"We've always felt good about our depth," he said.
In the seven days since Bartolo Colon made his last start before going on the DL with a strained groin, the A's starting pitchers have an ERA of 1.51. Tuesday, Sonny Gray limited the Seattle Mariners to two runs in seven innings in his third major-league start, before a bullpen meltdown handed him a no-decision in the A's 7-4 loss.
Gray left with a 4-2 lead, but the Mariners scored five times in the eighth against the A's top two setup men. Four runs were charged to Sean Doolittle, who faced four hitters and gave up four hits. Ryan Cook relieved Doolittle, let three runners score on two wild pitches and a fielder's choice, and left having thrown 26 pitches and recorded one out.
"(Gray) pitched his (butt) off, goes seven innings and gives us a chance to win. All we've got to do is get six outs and they get four runs before we get an out," Doolittle said. "We felt like that was a game we should've won. Not the right night, not the right time of year to have an inning like that."
The A's had been 55-2 when leading after seven innings.
After Michael Saunders led off the eighth with a single off Doolittle, Henry Blanco hit a line drive to left that popped out of Yoenis Cespedes' glove for a double. The inning got worse when catcher Derek Norris was hurt trying to block the plate on the fielder's choice.
Melvin said Norris suffered a fractured big left toe, and it's uncertain whether he will have to be placed on the DL.
It was the third time in four games Doolittle has allowed a run after going 12 consecutive outings without one. Cook allowed a run for just the second time in 22 appearances.
"If I do my job, he doesn't have to come in in the first place," Doolittle said. "Maybe we both got it out of our systems on one night."
The inning wasted another strong outing from the 23-year-old rookie Gray, who has thrown 25 innings in the big leagues, allowed 12 hits and four earned runs and struck out 27. The Mariners ran out a lineup featuring seven left-handed hitters against Gray and collected two hits off him – a double by Raul Ibanez in the second and a two-run home run by Nick Franklin in the third.
"It's good to see," Melvin said. "He's got some presence out there. He's got the stuff."
The A's gave Gray an early cushion with four runs in the first inning off Mariners left-hander Joe Saunders. Jed Lowrie hit a leadoff triple, Norris followed with a single and Josh Donaldson hit just his second home run since the All-Star break to put the A's up 3-0 three batters in.
Nate Freiman homered to make it 4-0, but with the Seattle bullpen already working and Saunders on the ropes, the A's couldn't deliver a knockout punch. They put runners on in every inning from the second to the eighth without scoring.
Notes – Opening Day starter Brett Anderson, coming back from a fractured foot, will throw about 65 pitches in his rehabilitation start at Class-A Stockton on Thursday, with Melvin not ruling out the possibility that if all goes well, he could rejoin the A's shortly thereafter.
"I don't think results are the most important thing – we feel good about the stuff that he has," Melvin said. "(We'll monitor) how he feels and what we hear with life on his pitches and so forth but to this point everything we've seen so far would suggest that he's almost ready to go."
Melvin said Colon felt "a little bit better (Monday)," but the A's won't know until he starts throwing off a mound whether Colon will be able to return after his 15 days on the DL are up.