OAKLAND -- Sure, Jerome Williams had pitched well the last time he faced the A’s, throwing six innings and allowing one run in a start against Oakland in July.
Yes, the 32-year-old right-hander on Saturday was coming off a start in which he held the San Diego Padres to just one unearned run in 7 2/3 innings.
But Williams’ numbers for the 2014 season before Saturday included a 5-7 record and a 5.03 ER. The Philadelphia Phillies are the journeyman pitcher’s third team this year -- he started the season in the Houston Astros’ bullpen and made two appearances with Texas before joining the Phillies. And on Saturday, he was facing an A’s starting lineup with a combined career batting average against him of .374 (40-for-107).
And he shut the A’s out for seven innings.
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The A’s 3-0 loss was the latest development in their baffling second-half downturn fueled largely by offensive struggles. In their last 22 games, during which they’re 6-16, the A’s have scored an average of 2.7 runs. They’ve been held to one or zero runs in eight of the games. That they still rank fourth in the majors in runs scored speaks to how dramatically things have changed.
Manager Bob Melvin was asked after Saturday’s loss how to explain that change and at first said: "If I had the answer to that …"
"Production across the board from everybody was much better in the first four months or so, and hasn’t been since," Melvin said. "When you continually struggle, sometimes it affects your confidence, but that’s not an excuse. We should have confidence based on the amount of runs we scored earlier in the season.
"To go through as deep a drought as we have, that’s the question is, why is it so severe over the last month and a half?"
One could point to the numbers of individual hitters. Josh Donaldson, for example, is batting .200 in September (15-for-75). Brandon Moss is batting .173 since the All-Star Break. Derek Norris is hitting .215 since August 2. Even Coco Crisp, the sparkplug atop the A’s lineup, is struggling, hitting .199 in the second half.
Or you could try to examine the A’s approach as a team -- something Melvin said isn’t a total oversimplification. The A’s typically make opposing starters work deep into counts and, when they get runners on base, "that’s usually when we do our damage."
"We’ve probably been swinging a little too early (in counts) for us," Melvin said. "And that’s probably a byproduct of trying to do a little too much at a time when no one is really swinging the bat well. So that could have something to do with it.
"And then when we do get in a count and we get a decent pitch, we pop it up. Or even if we make a decent swing on it, we’re not doing damage where we were earlier."
The A’s best -- and really, only -- scoring chance Saturday came when they loaded the bases with one out in the second inning against Williams. That brought up Norris, who worked the count into his favor at 3-1. Norris grounded the next pitch sharply the other way -- straight to second baseman Chase Utley, who started a 4-6-3 double play.
Norris said he was shooting for the gap between the first and second basemen and "just didn’t let it travel far enough to hit it to the hole … No excuses, just got to be better with the situational hitting, get a ball a little more elevated next time."The outcome of the game magnified that at-bat, and Norris argued, "to rely the game on just one play or one at-bat or something seems a little bit of a stretch." But it highlighted another reason one could cite for the A’s lack of scoring. Going back to Friday night, it was the third time in four innings the A’s had loaded the bases against the Phillies. They didn’t score in any of those innings. When they do create opportunities to score, they’re missing the big hit.
Norris chalked the loss Saturday up to: "It’s baseball. It’s a long season. We’ve had (our pitchers) come out and give up six, seven runs, and we’ve backed them up with 10 runs. It’s just baseball."
But that backing has been missing all too often lately. "We’ve been struggling for a while now," Melvin said of the offense. And while it’s hard to explain, the one certainty is this: It’s happening at a bad time.
* The game story gets into the one pitch that swung Saturday’s outcome -- Dan Otero’s full-count fastball to ninth-place hitter Freddy Galvis with two outs in the seventh, which Galvis hit for a two-run home run to break a scoreless tie.
Like the Norris at-bat, it was one negative that got magnified by the A’s inability to piece together any offense after the second inning. Otero stood at his locker and owned it, said the pitch tailed back too much over the middle of the plate against the left-handed Galvis and that, "I feel terrible." But he denied that seeing the offense struggle to score runs puts any added pressure on the pitchers to be too fine.
"No, as a pitching staff you’re always trying to put up zeroes and give your offense the best chance to win," Otero said. "Every time you give up a run, you’re putting your offense behind the eight-ball. So as pitchers we have to keep putting up zeroes along with the opponents.
"I didn’t do that today. I didn’t do my job in the seventh. So, just got to do a better job."
* The A’s got all they could want from Drew Pomeranz, making his first appearance in a game since Sept. 2 filling in for Jason Hammel, who was away for the birth of his child. Because of the layoff, the A’s had Pomeranz on a limit of about 80 pitches and no more than five innings, Melvin said. The left-hander ended up pitching five scoreless innings, allowing one hit, and throwing 86 pitches.
Pomeranz completed five despite needing 32 pitches in the first, when the Phillies loaded the bases on a single, walk and hit batter but Pomeranz struck out the side. Pomeranz said it simply took him an inning to find his rhythm again after the layoff. He threw just eight pitches in the second inning and retired 13 of his final 14 hitters.
"I felt good, it’s not like I was getting hit around," Pomeranz said of the first. "I was just kind of missing a little bit. It was just a minor adjustment from there to move some of the pitches over to on the plate."
Hammel is expected to make his next start Thursday, so Pomeranz’s stay in the rotation should be brief. But of his outing Saturday, Melvin said: "That’s about as good as you could expect."
* Williams earned a piece of history with his win Saturday. It was his third win this year against the A’s. The first came in a two-inning relief outing for Houston in April, and the second in the July start for the Rangers. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Williams is the first pitcher ever to beat the same team three times for three different clubs in the same season.
"He was just mixing speeds and staying on his locations, mixing in and out," Norris said of Williams on Saturday. "He’s thrown against us enough times, I think he knew he had to bring everything from pitch one. And he did, and he threw a good game."
Williams in five games against the A’s this season: 3-0, 2.25 ERA. Williams against the rest of MLB: 2-7, 5.26 ERA.
* Crisp flied out in his lone at-bat Saturday, a pinch-hit appearance. But it was his 390th consecutive at-bat that did not result in Crisp grounding into a double play. That ties the longest such streak in Oakland history, set by Reggie Jackson from 1974-75. So there’s that.
* With the Royals also losing to the Detroit Tigers, the A’s held onto their half-game lead over Kansas City in the wild-card race. With the Mariners currently getting blown out in Houston, it appears the A’s will also maintain their one-game lead over Seattle and keep sole possession of the top wild-card spot for at least one more day.
Norris chose to end Saturday on an optimistic tone:
"You could probably go on and on about the negative things that we’ve been doing here and so forth, but with the baseball we’ve played, we’re still one of the headlines to make the postseason in the wild card.
"We’re going to be there ’til the end of the season, and we control our own destiny. And I feel like if we play the good baseball that we know how to play, we’re going to be there."
They can still win this series Sunday. The A’s start left-hander Scott Kazmir (14-9, 3.44), while the Phillies counter with right-hander A.J. Burnett (8-17, 4.40). First pitch at 1:05.