Oakland A's

A’s bullpen squanders late lead in 5-4 loss to Angels

Oakland Athletics' Sean Doolittle places his hand to his head after giving up a two-run home run to Los Angeles Angels' Geovany Soto, right, during the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 12, 2016, in Oakland.
Oakland Athletics' Sean Doolittle places his hand to his head after giving up a two-run home run to Los Angeles Angels' Geovany Soto, right, during the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 12, 2016, in Oakland. AP

The A’s 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels ended shortly before 10 p.m. Tuesday night. It would be a quick turnaround to the daytime finale of the series, but for Sean Doolittle there was still work to be done at the Coliseum.

"I’m going to be here for a while tonight," the A’s closer said.

Doolittle’s first job Tuesday had been to protect a one-run A’s lead in the ninth inning. Instead, he’d given up a two-run home run to Angels catcher Geovany Soto that was the difference in the A’s losing a game they’d never trailed until that point.

It was Doolittle’s first blown save of the season, but the second home run he has allowed in five outings. Both have come in the ninth inning of one-run losses. Both have been hit by right-handed batters -- Chicago’s Jimmy Rollins had the first -- on Doolittle’s fastball.

"I’m going to watch the video and see what adjustments I can make," Doolittle said after Tuesday’s game. "I feel like the stuff is there. The execution has just not been as consistent as I need it to be. It’s early in the season, but that’s twice already. We’ll have to go to the drawing board and watch some film and see what adjustments we can make."

Doolittle has never allowed more than two home runs at the Coliseum in a single season, and he is already there through six home games in 2016. The pitch Soto jumped on was an 0-1 fastball that Doolittle said he actually located too low in the strike zone.

"The way my fastball tends to ride it’s weird, I get in trouble sometimes when the ball is down," he said. "I didn’t elevate that pitch enough, and you saw what happened."

The A’s had led the game 4-1 going into the eighth inning before the Angels scored twice against set-up man Ryan Madson. Yunel Escobar and Daniel Nava both hit one-out singles, and after Madson struck out Mike Trout swinging at a changeup, Albert Pujols pulled an 0-2 changeup down the left-field line for a double that scored both runners.

"I knew it was kind of a safe pitch if I got it in there and just let him pull it foul or maybe swing over the top of it," Madson said. "But it was up too much to where he could get his bat on it and get enough on it to lay it in there for a double."

While the style of the loss was reminiscent of last season -- when the A’s led the majors in one-run losses and had the league’s highest bullpen ERA -- there was a willingness in the A’s clubhouse Tuesday night to regard it as an aberration this year.

Madson was one of several veteran relievers brought in to improve the bullpen over the offseason. And for the first 10 days of the season the unit has been markedly better. A’s relievers went into Tuesday’s game with a collective 1.86 ERA in 29 innings.

"(The Angels) had some pretty good hitters get some good at-bats off them," said A’s manager Bob Melvin. "Both guys (Madson and Doolittle) looked good out there … I think the bullpen has been great. You’ve got to give (the Angels) some credit, too."

The first seven innings had been something of a blueprint for how the A’s hope to win a lot of games this season. Starter Kendall Graveman gave them six innings, allowing one run while scattering four hits. Shortstop Marcus Semien hit two home runs. Leadoff hitter Billy Burns reached base three times, stole two bases and scored twice.

Reliever John Axford pitched a scoreless seventh with an assist from Josh Reddick, who started a double play with a diving catch on Soto’s sinking line drive in right field. Still, for Doolittle, all that only made Tuesday’s outcome more difficult.

"We take a lot of pride in what we do," Doolittle said. "And we were handed a lead late in the game, and I couldn’t get the job done."

It left the closer facing a longer night. But across the room, a little while later, Madson stood at his locker and lent some perspective. The veteran right-hander was pitching in Philadelphia in 2008 when teammate Brad Lidge recorded 48 saves in 48 chances, including the postseason.

"I’ve only seen one guy go perfect in my whole career, and that was pretty amazing," Madson said. "He won a lot of awards for it.

"So yeah, it’s one game. It hurts because the guys played so well and Grave threw so well. It’s part of our job to reward then. We weren’t able to bring it home for them. But they realize that’s part of the game, and all parts gotta go."