A’s starter Rich Hill turns in short outing in 4-2 loss to Royals

OAKLAND -- A’s manager Bob Melvin said he was pleased with how his lineup made Kansas City Royals starter Edinson Volquez work on Friday night, seeing a total of 103 pitches from the right-hander over the course of six innings.

Still, Volquez’s outing only underscored a glaring difference in the A’s 4-2 loss to the Royals. By slogging through six innings with a one-run lead, Volquez allowed Kansas City manager Ned Yost to turn the game over to his late-inning bullpen trio of Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria and Wade Davis, who shut the A’s offense down over the final three innings.

Meanwhile, Oakland starter Rich Hill did not make it out of the fifth inning, marking the second time in three outings that the A’s No. 2 starter has failed to complete five innings. Hill needed 106 pitches to record 13 outs, and his early departure forced the A’s bullpen to cover the final 4 2/3 innings as the team suffered its fourth consecutive loss.

"When we have to go to the bullpen in the fifth inning," Hill said, "I just didn’t do my job tonight."

Hill struggled with his command early, walking the first batter of the game and allowing consecutive singles to Omar Infante and Lorenzo Cain that gave the Royals their first run. He got Eric Hosmer to ground into a double play, which scored Infante, but issued another walk to Kendrys Morales before striking out Alex Gordon to end the inning.

The inning encapsulated a frustrating night for Hill. He exhibited swing-and-miss stuff, recording six strikeouts and inducing 11 swing-throughs. But he ended the first inning at 30 pitches against a Royals lineup that seemed perfectly content getting deep into counts and driving up Hill’s pitch count.

Hill threw first-pitch strikes to just nine of the 24 hitters he faced and said his command of his fastball was spotty. He had a better feel for his big-breaking curveball, but Royals hitters also seemed to be geared up for the pitch. Hill finished three of his strikeouts with the curveball, but also allowed six of his nine hits on the pitch.

"They did a great job of hitting the breaking ball tonight," Hill said. "It’s a good lineup.

"I just (need to) be a little more efficient with my fastball. I think that getting ahead early in counts is a must. That’s something we saw in (his last start in) Seattle. And today just Kansas City did a good job of fighting off good pitches and putting good pitches in play."

After Hill’s exit, Melvin covered the rest of the game with four relievers, three of whom pitched in multiple innings. That included using left-handed specialist Marc Rzepczynski to record four outs for the second time already this season (he also pitched two innings in an April 9 win in Seattle). Last season, Rzepczynski appeared in 72 games without once recording more than three outs.

Ryan Dull replaced Rzepczynski to start the eighth inning and retired four straight hitters. But wanting to keep Dull available later in the series, Melvin opted to replace him with closer Sean Doolittle with one out in the ninth. And the first batter Doolittle faced, Eric Hosmer, lined a 1-1 fastball over the wall in center field that extended the Royals’ lead.

"I don’t want to use Sean Doolittle in that type of situation there," Melvin acknowledged later. "(But) we have to have some guys available in case we do get into the (bullpen in) the middle innings again."

It was the third home run Doolittle has allowed already this season in six outings and just the second he has allowed to a left-handed hitter since 2013. All three home runs have come in his four appearances at home -- prior to this season, Doolittle had allowed only five home runs in 102 outings at the Coliseum. Both Melvin and catcher Stephen Vogt, though, credited Hosmer with beating a good pitch.

"That was an unbelievable piece of hitting by Hosmer," Vogt said. "Doolittle made a great pitch up and in, fastball, Hosmer doesn’t handle those. No one hits that ball out to center here at night, especially on a pitch like that. You’ve got to tip your cap there."

"I don’t know how he hits it out to center field," Melvin agreed. "Other than that, his (Doolittle’s) stuff was good."

The A’s offense had a few brief flashes. Vogt, who had 18 home runs last year, hit his first of the season on a breaking ball from Volquez in the second inning. In the fourth, Vogt scored from second base on a one-out single by left fielder Khris Davis, who went into the game batting .167 with 14 strikeouts in nine games.

It was too little to overcome an early deficit, though, as the A’s played the entire game from behind. And afterward, Melvin said the extent to which he has used his bullpen early this season is "a bit of a concern."

"Overall," Melvin said, "we need to get a little bit deeper into games."