Oakland A's

A’s lose Ben Zobrist to DL, then fall to Astros

A’s third baseman Max Muncy breaks up a double play at second base as he crashes into the Astros’ Jose Altuve in the seventh inning Saturday in Oakland.
A’s third baseman Max Muncy breaks up a double play at second base as he crashes into the Astros’ Jose Altuve in the seventh inning Saturday in Oakland. Bay Area News Group

Already missing their leadoff hitter and closer to injuries for all of April, the A’s learned Saturday they will also be without their most versatile defensive player and regular No. 3 hitter, Ben Zobrist, for a significant time due to a knee injury and surgery that will likely sideline him until June.

The A’s placed Zobrist on the 15-day disabled list prior to their 9-3 loss to the Houston Astros, with a tear of the medial meniscus in his left knee. Zobrist is expected to have arthroscopic surgery to address the tear. Typical recovery time is four to six weeks.

Zobrist was the key acquisition in the A’s roster overhaul this offseason, a veteran second baseman and outfielder expected to help anchor the lineup and play several positions defensively. He was batting .267 with eight RBIs before injuring his knee on an awkward slide into second base on April 19 in Kansas City. He did not play again until Thursday, then tried to test the knee Friday night by starting against the Astros at designated hitter.

Zobrist looked very limited while running out ground balls and later said the worst pain came when he swung right-handed and put pressure on his knee. The A’s and Zobrist wanted to use Friday as a test of whether Zobrist could play through the pain; he decided he could not.

“This is the thing to do,” manager Bob Melvin said before Saturday’s game. “This way once he rehabs and he’s healthy again, he won’t have this weighing on him.”

Even before the A’s chose to place Zobrist on the DL, Melvin described the team as “considerably banged up.” Third baseman Brett Lawrie jammed his knee into the A’s bullpen making a catch in foul territory Friday and was not in the lineup for the first time this season Saturday – despite texting Melvin at 1:30 a.m. to say he could play.

Max Muncy, called up from Triple-A Nashville to replace Zobrist on the roster, made his major-league debut starting in Lawrie’s stead. Muncy got his first big-league hit with a seventh-inning single and then broke up a potential double play on a slide that upended Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, allowing Josh Reddick to score on the play and extending the inning for Eric Sogard to hit a two-run double.

By that time, though, the rally was negligible. The A’s trailed 8-0 going into the bottom of the seventh, following another rocky start from right-hander Kendall Graveman, who allowed six earned runs on nine hits and has not completed five innings in three of his first four outings this season while compiling an 8.27 ERA.

Graveman is a ground-ball pitcher who on Saturday was not getting ground balls. Of the 25 batters he faced, he retired just three on groundouts, and most of the nine hits he allowed were hard-hit line drives or fly balls. The most damaging was Jose Altuve’s three-run homer in the second inning, which came on a 1-0 cutter that Graveman left up in the strike zone and gave Houston a 4-0 lead.

“He’s a command guy that usually isn’t in the middle of the plate, usually on the corners with subtle movement, and he’s having a tough time finding that in the fashion we saw in spring training,” Melvin said. “So it’s a little bit of a concern now.”

Graveman said he felt himself “getting on the side of the baseball again” Saturday, which led to lateral movement on his pitches instead of the downward movement that helps him get ground balls. He said he has “been working hard the past two weeks to get that movement back, and it’s just not showing up. It’s here one pitch, not there the next.”

That inconsistency could describe the A’s, who have outscored opponents 62-6 in their eight wins and been outscored 72-28 in 11 losses. The A’s have lost four of their last five games and are three games under .500 for the first time since July 2, 2012. Along with Graveman’s difficult afternoon, the A’s went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position and committed two seventh-inning errors on dropped fly balls in the outfield.

“We’re not playing very well here the last five games or so,” Melvin said. “Even before that, we’d lose some close games where we were getting consistent at-bats, getting guys on base. We were swinging the bats well. And at this point, we’re not doing anything too terribly right.”

Sogard’s triple was a bright spot for the player who likely will man second base in Zobrist’s absence, for the most part. Zobrist said a date had not been set for his surgery, but “hopefully (it’s) as soon as possible.” He said he played through a similar injury in his right knee for about a year and a half earlier in his career before having surgery on it, but realized Friday night that would not be an option this time.

“The way that it felt was different,” Zobrist said. “(The A’s) need me to be 100 percent out there to do what I’m capable of doing for this ballclub. I’ve got to get back there as soon as possible.”

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

ASTROS 9, A’S 3

HoustonAB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Altuve 2b

5

1

2

3

0

0

.315

Valbuena 3b

5

2

1

0

0

0

.197

Springer rf

5

2

2

1

0

0

.200

Lowrie ss

3

2

2

2

1

0

.296

Col.Rasmus cf

5

0

2

0

0

1

.244

Carter dh

3

1

1

1

1

0

.143

J.Castro c

4

0

0

1

1

0

.205

Ma.Gonzalez 1b

5

1

1

0

0

1

.304

Grossman lf

3

0

0

0

1

2

.161

Totals38

9

11

8

4

4

A’sAB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Fuld cf

3

0

0

0

0

1

.290

a-Canha ph-lf

2

0

0

0

0

2

.250

Semien ss

4

0

0

0

0

2

.264

Vogt c

4

0

1

0

0

1

.364

B.Butler dh

3

0

0

0

1

1

.329

I.Davis 1b

4

1

1

0

0

0

.345

Reddick rf-cf

2

1

2

0

2

0

.357

Muncy 3b

4

0

1

0

0

1

.250

C.Ross lf-rf

3

1

0

1

1

1

.095

Sogard 2b

4

0

1

2

0

0

.265

Totals33

3

6

3

4

9

Houston

130

020

201

9

11

0

A’s

000

000

300

3

6

2

a-struck out for Fuld in the 7th.

E—C.Ross (1), Reddick (2). LOB—Houston 8, A’s 7. 2B—Valbuena (2), Springer (4), Lowrie (3). 3B—Sogard (1). HR—Altuve (2), off Graveman; Springer (2), off Bassitt. RBIs—Altuve 3 (11), Springer (6), Lowrie 2 (9), Carter (3), J.Castro (3), C.Ross (3), Sogard 2 (4). CS—Altuve (2). Runners left in scoring position—Houston 4 (Col.Rasmus, J.Castro, Ma.Gonzalez 2); A’s 4 (I.Davis, Sogard, Canha 2). RISP—Houston 4 for 13; A’s 2 for 9. Runners moved up—B.Butler, Muncy, Sogard. GIDP—Altuve. DP—A’s 1 (Sogard, Semien, I.Davis).

Houston

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Feldman W, 2-2

62/3

5

3

3

2

6

108

4.81

Thatcher

1/3

0

0

0

0

1

3

4.50

Fields

1

0

0

0

1

1

17

0.00

W.Harris

1

1

0

0

1

1

24

0.00

A’s

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Graveman L, 1-2

42/3

9

6

6

1

1

71

8.27

Bassitt

41/3

2

3

1

3

3

71

2.08

Inherited runners-scored—Thatcher 1-0, Bassitt 2-1. HBP—by Bassitt (Carter, Lowrie). WP—Feldman, Bassitt.

T—2:55. A—24,342 (35,067).

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