On the day the A’s traded slugger Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for pitcher Jon Lester, general manager Billy Beane invoked the name of a longtime A’s nemesis in explaining the move.
“We’ve been in this division for years, facing a guy like Felix Hernandez,” Beane said July 31. “And when you can acquire a guy who’s at or near that same level, that kind of guy, you do anything you can to find a way to get it done.”
The trade has been widely scrutinized, while the A’s offense has sputtered without Cespedes and the team has been overtaken atop the American League West by the red-hot Los Angeles Angels. But Wednesday afternoon brought a chance for a modicum of validation, with Lester opposing Hernandez, the Seattle Mariners’ ace, in a marquee pitching matchup at O.co Coliseum.
The encounter lived up to that billing, and for the A’s and their fans, the result was all too familiar. Hernandez threw one pitch that was hit over the outfield fence, by Adam Dunn in the fourth inning. Lester threw two, one to Kyle Seager in the seventh and – just two pitches later – one to Corey Hart. And that made for a tidy 2-1 Seattle win that left the A’s closer in the standings to the third-place Mariners than the first-place Angels.
“Give up two solo homers, I like my chances in just about any game,” Lester said.
Only Hernandez did one better against the A’s, who have scored just six runs in Lester’s last four starts and been held to one or fewer runs in four of their last six games.
After winning his first three starts following the trade, Lester is 0-3 over his last four despite allowing just eight earned runs in 27 innings.
“We’ve got to score more runs,” A’s catcher Derek Norris said. “We can’t bank on a guy, no matter who he is, Lester or Sandy Koufax, whoever’s going out there … 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.
“(Hernandez) pitched well, but we’ve got to get more runners on. And when we get them on, we’ve got to get them in 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.”
Both starters exited after eight innings, Lester having thrown 107 pitches and Hernandez 102. A day after the A’s scored twice against Mariners closer Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning of a 6-5 loss, Seattle went back to Rodney to pitch the ninth Wednesday.
As the top of the ninth ended, Rodney threw his last warmup pitch in the bullpen, took a drink from a water bottle, tossed it high over his shoulder and stalked to the mound. He got Josh Reddick to fly out to left field, retired Josh Donaldson on a groundout to second baseman Robinson Cano and struck out Dunn on three pitches to end it.
It has been nearly six years since the A’s last handed Hernandez a loss at the Coliseum. In nine starts in Oakland since the start of the 2011 season, the right-hander is 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA, and he improved to 4-0 in five starts against the A’s this year.
Dunn gave the A’s the early lead in the fourth with his 462nd career home run, tying him for 34th on the all-time list with Jose Canseco. But only one other A’s player, Norris, reached scoring position. Norris walked leading off the third, moved to second on a bunt by Eric Sogard and was stranded on groundouts by Sam Fuld and Reddick.
The A’s are 13-19 since July 31 and have lost games in the standings to the Angels since. Dunn, the newcomer brought in to jolt a struggling offense, was asked to gauge the amount of panic in the A’s clubhouse right now and 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 (today), which is huge, and get back to work Friday and get on a good run.”
Reinforcements may be coming. Coco Crisp, who has not played since Aug. 29 because of a strained neck, could be available Friday, Melvin said before the game. The A’s also hope to have John Jaso (concussion) soon in a pinch- and designated-hitter role.
But they may have sustained another loss Wednesday. Stephen Vogt came out of the game in the seventh because of a sprained left ankle after sliding into second base to break up a double play in the fifth. Vogt wore a protective boot after the game but said X-rays came back negative for breaks.
“Obviously, it stinks,” Vogt said. “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.”