OAKLAND -- Catcher Derek Norris said he’s tired of fielding questions about whether A’s hitters are feeling pressure to perform at the plate, and wasn’t interested in parsing through the team’s recent offensive struggles looking for a hidden explanations. He said so in the wake of a 2-1 loss that was about as straightforward as they come.
The A’s hit one solo home run off Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. The Mariners hit two against A’s ace Jon Lester. Just like that, the A’s fell five games behind the Los Angeles Angels in the A.L. West -- with the Angels still scheduled to play this evening – and find themselves closer in the standings to the third-place Mariners than the leaders.
The A’s have lost seven of nine and been held to one or zero runs in four of their last six games. In Lester’s last four starts, none of which he has won, they’ve scored a total of six runs -- four while Lester was still in the game.
"We’ve got to score more runs," Norris said. "We can’t bank on a guy, no matter who he is, Lester or Sandy Koufax you can’t bank on these guys trying to go out and throw nine innings of shutout ball every time just to get us a win. We’ve just got to be better offensively."
That was going to be a tall order Wednesday against Hernandez, whose dominance of the A’s in Oakland over the years is well-documented. With his eight innings of one-run ball Wednesday, Hernandez in his last nine starts at the Coliseum is now 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA dating back to April 1, 2011.
Hernandez was also coming off his worst start of the season, and Norris said, "You knew he was gong to come out and try his hardest to get back to his King Felix ways.
"And he pitched well," Norris said. "But we’ve got to get more runners on. And when we get them on, we’ve got to get them in. Whatever it is, what spark we’ve got to find, we’ve just got to find it and roll with it.
"No need to get real complex with it. We’ve just got to put more bats on balls and find some more holes."
Dunn’s swing in the fourth on a full-count fastball accounted for the A’s only run and one of only two times they put a man in scoring position. The other was Norris, who walked leading off the third and advanced to second on Eric Sogard’s sacrifice bunt before being stranded there on groundouts by Sam Fuld and Josh Reddick.
The A’s described it as a standard showing from Hernandez. "Same guy," Norris said. "Doesn’t really fall into patterns. He just stayed on location all day long, kep the ball down, kept the ball out of the air." Said manager Bob Melvin: "I think at times, maybe, he had a little better fastball when he needed it -- some 94 (mph), maybe a 95. But keeps you off-balance, so every time you think you’re in a fastball count you get a changeup."
Lester was sharp as well, allowing seven hits with no walks, and said: "Give up two solo homers, I like my chances in just about any game." That he was locked in a duel against Hernandez, Lester said, was a non-factor for him on the mound.
"I’ve got to worry about going out there and pitching my game to the best of my ability, and giving these guys a chance," Lester said. "If you keep these guys close against a good pitcher like that -- you never know. Weird things can happen."
But weird things didn’t happen Wednesday. Just a tidy 2-1 score in a game where three swings accounted for all the offense, and the Mariners had two of them. The A’s are off Thursday, and Melvin said his hope is they’ll return Friday "with some enthusiasm and positive thinking that our offense is going to come around."
"I think everyone’s aware of what’s going on," Norris said. "I don’t think anyone’s naïve to the fact that we’re not putting up any offense of late.
"We just need to be better."
* There wasn’t much to nitpick about Lester’s outing. In the span of three pitches in the seventh inning, he went from having a one-run lead to a one-run deficit. Kyle Seager hit Lester’s 3-1 fastball into the seats in right field, and Corey Hart followed by hitting a 1-0 fastball over the wall in left.
Lester said the pitches were "a little bit" missed locations. The pitch to Seager, in a good hitter’s count, was "up-middle." The fastball to Hart, he "just didn’t get the ball in. It was down, but it just kind of fell right into his bat."
Norris’ take on the Hart homer: "I think he just kind of guessed, because he hadn’t really looked good all day long. Just swung to a spot and made contact."
Lester has allowed five home runs in seven starts with the A’s after giving up nine total in 21 starts for Boston before the July 31 trade. Still, he has a 2.59 ERA since arriving in Oakland. That his record is 3-3, again, indicates the support he has received.
"Came as advertised," Melvin said of the pitching matchup. "Usually with two guys like that, it comes down to one swing, and literally in this case."
* The A’s sustained another loss when Stephen Vogt came out of the game in the seventh with a sprained left ankle, which he suffered sliding into second base in the fifth trying to break up a double play. Vogt was hobbling around in a protective boot after the game, but said X-rays on the ankle had come back negative for a fracture.
"Obviously it’s going to be pretty sore for the next couple days," Vogt said. "It stinks. You never want to come out of a game, you never want to be hurt at this time of year. Hopefully it’s just a couple days and I’ll be back at it this weekend."
Vogt said that as he went into second trying to break up the double play, Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano "had some fancy footwork and kind of tricked me which way he was going, so I tried to change directions last second and kind of clipped my toes on the ground, just kind of rolled the ankle over.
"He didn’t turn the double play," Vogt added, "so I guess it worked."
It’s a tough turn of events for Vogt. He has been nursing a bone bruise in his right foot for weeks, which has kept Melvin from using him at catcher, and now has the sprained ankle on the other side.
"I’ll be walking even now," Vogt said. "That’s the way I’m kind of looking at it."
* Dunn’s line with the A’s now reads: Three games, two starts, 4-for-8, two home runs, four RBIs. His homer off Hernandez was the 462nd of his career, tying him for 34th all-time with Jose Canseco. Next up for Dunn: Dave Winfield, at 465.
Dunn, of course, was brought in to jolt the A’s struggling offense and has been in their clubhouse for less than a week. Still, asked after Wednesday’s game to gauge the level of panic he senses among the A’s right now, Dunn quickly answered: "Zero."
"Zero, and I think they’ve done a great job putting the last five months in the past," Dunn said. "Obviously we have a day off tomorrow, which is huge. Get back to work on Friday and get on a good run."
* They’ll try to do so against the Houston Astros, which currently doesn’t appear to be as sure a thing as one might think. The Astros are 16-14 since Aug. 1 -- the A’s, by contrast, are 12-18 -- and they took two of three from the A’s in Houston late last month. There’s also the added uncertainty for the A’s of how the Astros might strategize differently with interim manager Tom Lawless replacing recently fired Bo Porter.
On July 31, the day the A’s traded for Lester, they were 25 games above .500 with a two-game lead over the Angels in the West. Since then, they’ve dropped seven games in the standings to Los Angeles, and could be 5 ½ out of first place by the end of play tonight. After another series loss, Melvin was asked Wednesday afternoon whether it has caused the A’s to shift their thinking from winning the division to simply holding the top spot in the wild-card race, which they currently lead by 3 ½ games over Detroit.
"What we focus on is winning a game, and that’s what we have to continue to do," said Melvin. "There’s a lot of games left. You look ahead and look how many games you’re behind, or whatever, it can be a distraction for you. So we’re all about winning Friday."
The pitching probables for the Astros series:
Friday: LHP Brett Oberholtzer (4-10, 4.39) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (4-4, 3.57)
Saturday: RHP Scott Feldman (8-10, 4.09) vs. LHP Scott Kazmir (14-7, 3.39)
Sunday: TBA vs. RHP Jason Hammel (2-5, 4.98)