A’s manager Bob Melvin had a different view than usual for his team’s fourth consecutive loss Sunday. Melvin was ejected in the fourth inning by home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott for arguing balls and strikes. What he watched the rest of the afternoon from someplace other than the dugout was at times encouraging and ultimately came to a familiarly frustrating result.
"We did a lot of good things right today," Melvin said of the A’s 7-6 loss. "We’re doing just enough to lose games right now."
The A’s took leads of 2-0 and 6-5. They got three RBIs from struggling Brett Lawrie and one from Craig Gentry on just Gentry’s second hit of the season. They received three scoreless innings from a battered bullpen, including one from Ryan Cook, recalled from Triple-A Nashville earlier in the day.
But it all went for naught.
The A’s committed their MLB-leading 20th error when Ike Davis mishandled a grounder that led to two unearned runs in the Astros’ three-run third. They saw Houston steal four bases. Tyler Clippard was asked to get four outs for the save and, after notching the last out of the eighth with two runners on, allowed Evan Gattis’ go-ahead, two-run double in the ninth for the bullpen’s sixth loss this season in 20 games.
The game story gets into how Gattis’ at-bat -- he doubled on a fastball at eye-level -- in some ways embodies what’s wrong with the A’s right now. Clippard and Stephen Vogt agreed the pitch was a good call and well-executed, but they got burned anyway. Overall the A’s, as Melvin said, can’t seem to capitalize on what they’re doing that’s positive.
"We could relive that ninth inning I think 100 times over and I would still be baffled by some of the things that happened in that ninth inning," Vogt said. "It’s just one of those things right now. This team seems resilient, you can see that by the way we fight back.
"Very frustrating for all of us. I don’t think one person in here isn’t frustrated right now."
As for that ninth inning: Melvin supported Lawrie’s decision to go to second base on Jose Altuve’s hard-hit grounder, despite Jake Marisnick running from first on the play. Lawrie threw low and Marcus Semien couldn’t handle it or get a throw off to first. Melvin called it an "instinct play," though he added Marisnick probably would have been safe anyway.
"Ball hit hard like that you still may always have a chance at second," Lawrie said. "Even if you don’t get that guy at second base, you still (may) get the guy at first. Unfortunately for us we just didn’t get it today."
Melvin was also asked if Sam Fuld might have had a chance at catching Gattis’ double if he had broken back on it immediately.
"That’s the toughest ball, is a line drive hit right at you," Melvin said. "The sun is right in your face. Tell you the truth, if he breaks straight back it’s still questionable whether he’s going to catch that ball or not."
Fuld didn’t seem to think so. He was playing shallow to give himself a shot at throwing out the potential tying run at home on a fly ball, and Gattis crushed the ball. Plus, Fuld said: "(The pitch) was at his neck. You don’t expect a guy to get on top of the ball."
Clippard thought it was a little higher -- around Gattis’ eyes. Gattis had swung wildly at a high inside fastball and missed to fall behind 0-2. So the A’s went back to the pitch three more times. Gattis took one, fouled the next back and crushed the third.
"I still want to know how Evan Gattis hit that pitch," Vogt said. "He needs to teach me how to do that."
With the loss, the A’s are still winless this season in day games (0-7) and in games that are decided by two runs or less (0-8). The latter is particularly puzzling, given the A’s have seemed to thrive late in close games in recent seasons. Like Sunday, they have put themselves in position to win those games. But they’re 0-6 in games decided in the final at-bat.
"It’s one of those things," Lawrie said. "You’ve got to be able to close it out and unfortunately the last couple times for us, we’ve been able to fight back a little bit, we just haven’t been able to come away with a W. I like the way we’re competing."
* Statistically this loss goes to Clippard, his second of the season. Six of the A’s 12 losses have been charged to relievers, but Vogt said all the blame for those games should not be laid on the shoulders of the bullpen.
"I wouldn’t say today was a bullpen loss," Vogt said. "There’s other things that factor into that -- when you give up runs early that lead to it being tied late in the game, not capitalizing offensively when we have more opportunities. So to hang all the losses on the bullpen I think is unfair. At the same time we do need to get better later."
The A’s bullpen has a 4.43 ERA, sixth-highest in the majors. Melvin has already had to shuffle the roles there with some relievers struggling, which is why Evan Scribner is now pitching the eighth inning as a set-up man and Cook was told Sunday he would have the seventh inning if the A’s were tied or ahead -- season debut notwithstanding.
Clippard, though, said he does not believe those struggles have affected the confidence in the bullpen.
"I don’t think so," he said. "I guess you could talk to those other guys, but I feel good. I feel confident. I think we all do. We all feel real good about what’s going on and how we are throwing the ball. It’s just kind of going bad right now."
* Cook’s outing was a positive, retiring three hitters on 13 pitches with a strikeout. Cook was optioned to Triple-A relatively early this spring after struggling in the Cactus League but had allowed just one hit in five outings at Nashville.
Cook said he wasn’t working on anything specific at Nashville, "just getting back to being myself and throwing a baseball the way I know I can.
"I’m confident in all my pitches right now," he said. "Hopefully I can get on a roll and help the team in any way they see fit."
* Melvin got his money’s worth in the fourth inning -- but only after Wolcott had ejected him from the game. Both teams seemed to have their issues with Wolcott’s strike zone. And it sounded like what most surprised Melvin was how quickly he was thrown out.
"That happened to be the first time that I had said something," Melvin said. "Some other guys were saying something, I think, on both sides. He maybe thought I was a little more demonstrative, who knows. He’s thrown me out before for that."
It was Melvin’s first ejection this season. The previous inning, Gentry had been called out on a high third strike after going about five steps down the first-base line thinking he had a walk. That might have helped stoke Melvin’s ire.
* Starter Drew Pomeranz needed 98 pitches to throw five innings and gave up five runs, though two were unearned following Davis’ third-inning error. He allowed Marisnick’s two-run homer in the fourth on an 0-2 pitch that he said he was trying to bounce.
"I had the right thought process," Pomeranz said. "Didn’t bounce it enough obviously, because it didn’t bounce."
Pomeranz has been the A’s least effective starter outside of Kendall Graveman, who was optioned to Triple-A on Sunday. He has a 4.50 ERA in four outings and has not recorded an out in the sixth in his past three starts.
"Same thing for me this time, had a few bad pitches in some bad situations and they got hits when they needed to," Pomeranz said. "That’s what it comes down to."
* The A’s have just their second day off Monday and Melvin said they need it, especially the bullpen, which logged 12 1/3 innings in this three-game series. The A’s were swept by the Astros for the first time in the franchises’ history. Houston has clearly improved. Two years ago the A’s won the season series, 15-4. The Astros already have four wins in the teams’ first six meetings this season.
The good news for the A’s: They get a three-week break from the first-place Astros. Next up is a three-game series with the Angels beginning Tuesday. The pitching probables:
Tuesday: RHP Sonny Gray (2-0, 1.91) vs. RHP Jered Weaver (0-2, 5.94)
Wednesday: TBA vs. TBA
Thursday: LHP Scott Kazmir (2-0, 0.99) vs. RHP Garret Richards (1-1, 3.75)