Oakland A's

Sean Nolin’s debut for A’s marred by one rocky inning in 3-2 loss

A’s pitcher Sean Nolin works against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015, in Oakland, Calif.
A’s pitcher Sean Nolin works against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015, in Oakland, Calif. The Associated Press

Sean Nolin was supposed to compete for a job in the A’s rotation during spring training. But injuries derailed that plan, and it wasn’t until Sunday afternoon at the O.co Coliseum that manager Bob Melvin finally saw the left-hander pitch in a game.

Melvin said his first impression was favorable. Nolin made his A’s debut in a 3-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners, pitching six innings and taking the loss due to one rocky inning. The Mariners scored all three runs in the fifth against Nolin, when he allowed the first five batters to reach base.

Nolin retired his first six batters of the game and allowed the Mariners’ leadoff hitters to reach in the third and fourth innings but pitched around trouble. He gave up consecutive singles to start the fifth, but caught a break as Logan Morrison didn’t slide trying for third base and was thrown out by A’s right fielder Jake Smolinski. –

This time, though, Nolin compounded the inning by walking the next two batters to load the bases. Ketel Marte’s blooper to shallow right field scored one run, Kyle Seager hit a sacrifice fly to deep center to score another, and Nolin allowed a third when he bounced a breaking ball past catcher Josh Phegley.

Nolin returned to retire the Mariners in order in the sixth. Melvin said after the game that Nolin had earned at least one more start in the A’s injury-ravaged rotation.

“Good,” Melvin said of Nolin’s outing. “I mean, for a good portion of it, really other than a couple at-bats where he had a couple of walks, I thought he threw the ball really well. He kept ’em off-balance, really not too many even good swings. It was just the two walks that ended up costing us some runs.”

Nolin said he started “nitpicking a little too much” in the fifth trying to avoid giving up a big hit. The game was still scoreless going into the fifth, with the A’s mounting very little offense against Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, and Nolin said when he started to fall behind in counts he tried to be too fine around the strike zone.

“Few mistakes there, couple walks,” Nolin said. “But I’d say overall, I was pretty happy with it.”

This was Nolin’s third major-league appearance, and he said he felt more comfortable on Sunday compared to his previous two outings with Toronto. He missed the early part of this season recovering from core surgery, and also dealt with a strained groin and strained shoulder while pitching at Triple-A Nashville. As a result, both his pitch count and inning count Sunday were season-highs, but he said he felt “great” physically.

Melvin said Nolin appears to have a “true mix of four pitches” – he uses a changeup to off-set his fastball against right-handed hitters, and throws both a curveball and a slider against lefties. Melvin also said it looked like Nolin’s fastball might have some deceptive velocity. “It looked like his ball was on you a little quicker,” Melvin said.

Nolin should get an extended audition the rest of this month for next spring, when he will ostensibly get the chance – albeit a year late – to compete for a rotation spot with the A’s over a full season.

▪ Along with the game, the A’s may have lost core player Stephen Vogt on Sunday for a few days – or possibly longer. Vogt took a foul tip to the groin area while catching in the top of the eighth inning. He collapsed to the ground and writhed for several moments and was helped off the field by trainers.

After the game, Melvin said Vogt was en route to the hospital.

“They’re going to do some tests,” Melvin said. “Don’t know the severity. I know at the very least it’ll probably be a few days. If anything’s fractured or whatever in there, it could be a little bit longer. But we’re hoping for the best. He was in pain - a lot of pain.”

Vogt had started the game at first base and just moved behind the plate in the eighth. The Mariner who fouled the ball off, Ketel Marte, was the first batter of the inning.

▪ In a bittersweet twist, Vogt’s injury led to Carson Blair making his major-league debut for the A’s. Blair, 25, was called up when rosters expanded earlier this month but had yet to get into a game. When his debut finally came, he didn’t have much time to prepare.

“That was probably helpful, not thinking too much going into it,” Blair said, “just kind of reacting to everything around you. It’s just terrible the way it had to happen. You never want to see an important part of your team go down like that. It makes you hurt to see it.”

Blair hustled down the bullpen to warm up his arm, then donned the gear and got behind the plate. He caught two innings, and also had his first big-league plate appearance in the bottom of the eighth. It was a savvy one – he laid off three consecutive breaking balls out of the zone from Logan Kensing after falling behind 1-2, drawing a walk.

“I was trying to slow everything down,” Blair said. “I think he threw me five sliders or something. He was probably playing off my aggression.”

Blair said the Mariners probably figured he would go up swinging – since the A’s had announced over the PA system that it was his first major-league game.

“Kinda wish they wouldn’t have done that,” Blair said, grinning. “Like, ‘Oh, this kid’s never played before.’ ”

But he said the moment hit home for him as Mariners hitters came up to the plate and congratulated him. Blair said his mom, stepdad and brother were all in the stands to see his debut. It was something Blair has waited a fairly long time for, since the Boston Red Sox drafted him in the 35th round of the MLB Draft in 2008. Yet in another way it came quickly – before this year, Blair had only played 17 games above A-ball.

“It means a lot, an awesome opportunity,” Blair said. “I started last year in High A ball with the Red Sox. So over the course of two seasons to end up here, it’s been a pretty cool journey.”

▪ Josh Reddick was held out of the lineup a day after leaving the game with illness. But he entered as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and lined a single off of Mariners left-hander Vidal Nuno. That came one batter after Coco Crisp, also pinch-hitting, lined a single to left field that knocked Iwakuma out of the game.

Melvin credited the A’s hitters with putting together good at-bats later in the game. Billy Butler homered off of Iwakuma for the A’s first run in the seventh. Mark Canha singled leading off the eighth and later scored on a Danny Valencia groundout. Still, the A’s did not capitalize on a two-on, one-out situation after Reddick’s single in the seventh, and they left the potential tying run on second base after getting him there with one out in the eighth.

In the ninth inning, Marcus Semien and Billy Burns hit back-to-back two-out singles to bring up Canha, who hit a laser to left field – but right at Seth Smith for the final out.

“Kind of the story of our year, one-run loss like that where we’re down, come back and fall just short,” Melvin said. “I don’t know how much shorter you can fall than we did today. But on a day where it looked like we were probably going down pretty easy, the at-bats got tougher as the game went along.”

▪ That was little consolation for the A’s, who were swept by Seattle and have now lost four in a row and eight of their last 11 games. Sunday’s loss secured a losing record at home for just the third time in the last 17 years, and the A’s are 21 games under .500 for the first time since they finished the 1997 season 32 games under.