For the fourth game in a row Tuesday night, the A’s sent a starting pitcher to the mound who did not allow an earned run. That hadn’t happened in franchise history since 1928, when the fourth such start was hurled by eventual Hall of Famer Lefty Grove.
Like Grove in that Aug. 13 start (according to baseball-reference.com), current A’s right-hander Jesse Chavez did allow an unearned run Tuesday. Like Grove, Chavez was facing the Detroit Tigers. But unlike Grove, whose A’s won that game 7-1, Chavez received no support from his offense, and an unearned run was enough to hand him and the A’s a 1-0 loss.
The run scored when the second batter of the game, Rajai Davis, lofted a sacrifice fly that scored Anthony Gose from third base. Gose had singled, stolen second, and taken third as A’s catcher Josh Phegley’s throw drifted up the line and away from second baseman Ben Zobrist. Chavez went on to complete eight innings, tying his career high, and lowered his ERA to 2.44. His record, however, is 1-5.
"His win-loss isn’t even close to indicative of how well he’s pitched," said A’s manager Bob Melvin. "To give us eight innings like that today against that lineup, and give up one run, which ends up being on a sac fly in the first inning -- he can’t knock in runs. All he can do is pitch and keep the other team down, and he did that."
The A’s, meanwhile, sent 11 men up to bat with a runner in scoring position and went 0-for-11. They created scoring chances against Tigers left-hander David Price, but did not capitalize on any of them.
"I thought our approach was OK off (Price), we did hit a lot of balls hard, too," Melvin said. "In games like that, it takes a big hit."
Chavez, though, has not been the beneficiary of many of those this season. For the third time in his seven starts, the A’s were shut out Tuesday. His lone win came in a 2-1 game.
Even his counterpart Price seemed to feel for him after the game, telling reporters: "He’s kind of been the tough-luck loser all year long. It’s tough to see. It’s just not happening for him right now."
Chavez was diplomatic about the loss. "I don’t worry about my own individual record," he said. "I just worry about the team’s."
His outing lowered the team’s starting ERA to 3.28, third-best in the major leagues. But the team couldn’t back him, and saw its season-high three-game winning streak end as a result.
* Phegley said his wide throw on Gose’s steal attempt in the first inning was the result of a momentary hesitation because he didn’t feel he had a good grip on the baseball.
"It was just enough for me to kind of start going forward, and then it just came out of my hand and tailed," Phegley said.
Phegley said he still "thought it was an OK throw," but it carried up the baseline and into the path of Gose and Ben Zobrist, coming to cover the bag from his second base position, couldn’t reach back to glove it.
"I threw it toward the runner," Phegley said. "I’m not going to ask anybody to take a hard slide in to the shins, especially a guy’s first day back. At the time I was a little frustrated that I made a bad throw, but I’m thinking it’s one run. And it ended up being the decisive run."
Defensively, though, Phegley’s night got a lot better. Detroit tried to steal on him three more times, and Phegley threw out Yoenis Cespedes, Andrew Romine and Rajai Davis, all at second base.
"Tried to redeem myself," he said. "It worked out."
Phegley’s throw to get Cespedes was right on the bag, as was his throw to nail Davis, one of the fastest players in the league. His throw on Romine’s attempt carried up the line just a little, but it was there quickly enough that Zobrist had time to adjust and put down a tag. Phegley said he couldn’t remember many games, in the majors or minors, where he threw out three would-be base-stealers.
"Usually you get the first two, they don’t run anymore after that," he said. "But I welcome the opportunities."
When the A’s acquired Phegley, he came with the reputation for a strong arm, so Melvin said he wasn’t exactly surprised by the showing Tuesday. The A’s said it’s the fifth time since 1994 an A’s catcher has caught three men stealing in a game.
"Those are good runners, too," Melvin said. "He’s a guy who can shut down the running games as he did today, he shut down a couple potential rallies. Those are the types of things that keep it close. But again, it came down to us not getting the big hit."
* Phegley said Chavez was effective Tuesday by "living on the edge of the plate all night long. That’s what was keeping (the Tigers) off balance. He wasn’t throwing anything on the heart of the plate they could get a barrel on."
Chavez agreed he was cutting and sinking his fastball to both sides of the plate, and that he has a lot of confidence in the fastball right now. He offered an interesting take on how he views the staple pitch:
"If I can throw one fastball to four different spots of the plate it’s four different fastballs," he said. "That’s how I look at it. It’s the work in between that you’ve got to focus on as a pitcher -- because that’s your biggest pitch, the fastball. Everything works off of that."
How much faith does Chavez have in the fastball right now? The first seven pitches he threw to Miguel Cabrera were all fastballs between 90-93 miles per hour.
"It’s just a chess match with him," Chavez said. "He’s such a good hitter, you don’t want to give him too many different looks ’cause you don’t know what he’s going to look for, so I just tried to stick with my game."
* Cabrera also created the funniest moment of the game, when he tried to fake out Billy Burns by pretending Price’s pickoff throw in the first inning had gotten away from him down the first-base line. Cabrera took several running steps before looking back at Burns, who wasn’t buying it.
"I thought for a split-second it might’ve gone off the tip of his glove, so I hopped up," Burns said. "And then I kind of saw him peek back at me and grin. So we both kind of had a good laugh about that one."
Burns was on first after a leadoff single -- and the A’s didn’t move him up the rest of the inning. That allowed for plenty more interaction with Cabrera, who apparently made the most of it.
"He was just cutting up with me, telling me to steal and they’d pick over," Burns said. "He was like, ‘Come on, man, just go ahead and steal,’ stuff like that, messing with me.
"And then he pulled my jersey out of my pants, so I had to tuck it back in right before I was taking my lead. He was just messing around out there, grabbing my arm and stuff when I was trying to get my lead. He was pretty funny."
Burns made it clear it was all light-hearted. When you’re a two-time MVP, you can have some fun on the field.
* Zobrist went 2-for-4 with a double in his first game since returning from knee surgery. He was reinstated from the DL on Monday but did not play. Melvin said he thought that Zobrist "moved around fine. Something like that, your first couple games back you might think about it a little bit. I don’t know that he did, I didn’t talk to him about it."
Melvin was asked if Zobrist might have shown any hesitation going for Phegley’s throw in the first inning because of his knee, and said: "I don’t think on that play his knee was a factor, no."
* Phegley was charged with an error on that play, giving the A’s a round number of 50 on the season, leading to 30 unearned runs. Both numbers lead the majors.
"I’d like to say it would end overnight," Melvin said of the defensive issues. "But it feels like it’s probably going to be a process."
* The Tigers were scheduled to start right-hander Alfredo Simon in the series finale on Wednesday afternoon, but Tuesday night they placed Simon on the bereavement list, so their starter is now up in the air. The A’s will send Scott Kazmir (2-3, 3.09) to the mound attempting to win their first series at home all season. First pitch at 12:35 p.m.