OAKLAND -- It was still a one-run game when the A’s put runners on first and second with one out in the seventh inning Tuesday night, with Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson coming to the plate. Seattle opted to stay with rookie reliever Dominic Leone, who had just allowed a bunt single to Coco Crisp that seemed to energize a small Coliseum crowd.
Lowrie, though, bounced into a 3-6 fielder’s choice, avoiding the double play by beating the relay throw to first. And Donaldson followed with a chopper to third that Kyle Seager flipped to second for the force-out, ending the threat. The A’s put the potential tying run on second again with two outs in the eighth for Brandon Moss, but Mariners left-hander Charlie Furbush came on and struck out Moss on three pitches.
The Mariners blew things open in the ninth against Jim Johnson in an 8-3 win, but before that it was the A’s 1-for-8 mark with runners in scoring position that loomed large in their fourth loss in five games. They’ve scored 12 runs in those five games, after equaling that total in their series finale in Texas alone and scoring 25 runs altogether in that three-game sweep of the Rangers.
"I just think we’re not getting the timely hits that we’re accustomed to," Donaldson said Tuesday night. "We got some guys on base tonight but just didn’t cash them in."
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Nick Punto’s two-run single in the second inning was the A’s lone hit with a runner on second or third. Yoenis Cespedes accounted for the only other run with a solo home run off Mariners starter Roenis Elias in the sixth, Cespedes’ fifth of the season.
The A’s did have seven hits and drew five walks, and manager Bob Melvin said that the approaches he’s seeing from his hitters are "fine. We’re just not swinging the bats like we did those three days in Texas." He added that the Mariners have done a good job of being aggressive early in counts -- one way to counteract the A’s patience and habit of grinding out at-bats.
Elias threw 107 pitches but made it into the seventh inning while striking out six. For the A’s, it doesn’t get any easier on Wednesday -- they’ll get Felix Hernandez in one game of the doubleheader, and he’s undefeated in his last 10 starts at the Coliseum. Seattle’s other starter for the twin bill has not been announced.
* The Mariners’ offense, meanwhile, jumped on an A’s starter early for the second night in a row. This time it was Jesse Chavez allowing three runs in the first on four hits, and the inning could have been bigger -- Craig Gentry made a leaping catch at the right-field wall to rob Corey Hart of a hit for the second out, and second baseman Nick Punto had a play on Mike Zunino’s inning-ending grounder up the middle only because he was going to cover second base with a runner in motion
Chavez said he was missing over the middle of the plate with his cutter -- likely his most effective pitch this season -- and the Mariners took advantage of that. He did settle down enough to pitch into the sixth after throwing 29 pitches in the first, but failed to complete six innings for the second time this season and absorbed his first loss in seven starts.
"Just had to grind today," Chavez said.
He also at one point had to save himself from potentially serious bodily harm. Michael Saunders made the final out of the fourth by hitting a line drive right back at Chavez, who threw his glove up for the catch. Had he not, the ball likely would have hit him square in the head.
This being in Oakland, it was reminiscent of the comebacker that seriously injured right-hander Brandon McCarthy in 2012, and Donaldson acknowledged that he "kind of had a McCarthy flashback" on the play. Chavez got up immediately and looked a little shaken leaving the field, but said he "wasn’t jittery or nothing."
"It was all reflexes," he said of the catch. "Soon as I let it go, I saw him make contact and then just put my glove up. And I’m standing here."
Chavez said he’s had line drives back at his lower body before, but never anything in the face area. He said he hadn’t watched a replay, but told that it looked like the ball would have nailed him in the side of the head, he pointed his index finger between his eyes.
"Right there," he said. "I moved my head after."
* It was a rough night for Jim Johnson, who entered in the ninth to keep the A’s deficit at one and surrendered four runs. All were unearned, but that’s because the inning built on a throwing error by Johnson himself. After walking No. 9 hitter Brad Miller on four pitches to start the inning, Johnson fielded Saunders’ sacrifice bunt and threw it into right field.
Johnson still nearly got out of the inning before it snowballed. He struck out James Jones and, after walking Robinson Cano intentionally to load the bases, got Corey Hart to hit a ground ball. But it was too slow for Jed Lowrie and Nick Punto to turn the double play up the middle, and Johnson then allowed a two-run single by Smoak and an RBI double to Kyle Seager.
"He really did recover after -- you make an error like that, sometimes you can get a little bit out of sorts," Melvin said. "He gets the ground ball he wants to get, we just didn’t turn the double play and it got away from him a little bit."
These were the first runs Johnson has given up since April 9, a span of eight outings. The trend so far is that when Johnson has been good, he’s been very good, and vice versa -- in each of the four appearances in which he’s been scored upon, he’s allowed multiple runs and failed to complete the inning.
* Johnson threw 25 pitches, and Melvin still needed to summon Dan Otero to get the last out of the ninth. So where does that leave the A’s bullpen for the doubleheader?
"Not bad," Melvin said. "Jim threw some pitches today, but other than that I think we’re in pretty good shape for tomorrow."
Sean Doolittle worked 1 1/3 innings in Tuesday’s game but they were uneventful -- he faced four hitters and struck them all out, throwing 14 of his 15 pitches for strikes. Luke Gregerson also pitched an inning and needed 23 pitches, so he might be on a shorter leash for Wednesday.
Melvin said he’ll likely announce the A’s game two starter in the morning, but that it still could depend some on what happens in game one. That may well mean it will be Drew Pomeranz getting the start unless Dan Straily struggles in the first game and the A’s need to use Pomeranz for long relief.
* Somewhat quietly, Cespedes has gone 7-for-21 with five extra-base hits over his last seven games and is now batting .257, after being as low as .216 in mid-April. Trending the other way is Alberto Callaspo, who is 0-for-his-last-14 and batting .164 over his last 20 games.
* It’s a quick turnaround to a 12:35 p.m. start for game one Wednesday, so we’ll keep this short. Pitching matchups, again, are still in flux, but you’re certain at some point in the day to see Straily (1-2, 5.01) for the A’s and Hernandez (3-1, 2.53) for Seattle.