Gouged by injuries to leadoff hitter Coco Crisp and reliever Ryan Cook, still smarting from a game in which they’d finally gotten to Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez only to lose in extra innings, the A’s found a much-needed salve in the left arm of Drew Pomeranz.
The A’s and Mariners played the first “traditional” doubleheader at the O.co Coliseum since 2011 on Wednesday, meaning that roughly 30 minutes after the A’s dropped the opener 6-4 in 10 innings after another bullpen collapse, Pomeranz took the mound for the nightcap tasked with giving the A’s as much as possible on a budget of about 70 pitches.
The left-hander, a long relief option in the bullpen since April, delivered five scoreless innings, allowing two hits and walking none. The A’s backed him with two runs, right-hander Dan Otero bridged the gap to the ninth with three innings of shutout relief and displaced closer Jim Johnson secured a 2-0 win and split with his first save since April 6.
Pomeranz needed 68 pitches to complete five innings, throwing 47 for strikes in his longest major-league outing and first win as a starter since 2012, when the former fifth overall draft pick was pitching for the Colorado Rockies.
“Couldn’t have expected any more than that,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “Pretty fantastic for a guy who hasn’t started a game for us – in spring (training) or this season.”
Such highlights have been scarce for Pomeranz since his major-league debut in 2011 – he went 2-9 for Colorado in 2012 and had a 6.23 ERA for the Rockies last season while spending much of the year in the minors. The A’s acquired him in December in a trade for left-hander Brett Anderson, and Pomeranz entered Wednesday with a 1.98 ERA over nine appearances out of the bullpen.
Oddly, it wasn’t even assured he would start the second game of the doubleheader – had the A’s needed him in relief in the first game, the start would have gone to Arnold Leon. But after the fifth inning of the opener passed without his being called, Pomeranz said, he left the bullpen for the A’s clubhouse to prepare for his first major-league start in 19 months.
“It felt a little weird at first,” Pomeranz said. “But I just tried to take the same mentality I’ve had all year, staying out of the stretch, keep things as simple as I could out there and treat it like I was coming into a game (in relief).”
Pomeranz said he used to pitch out of the windup as a starter but scrapped it this spring. “And I’ve had success,” he said. “So there’s no reason to go back.”
A big reason for that success, he said, has been the feel of his curveball, which he threw effectively Wednesday while recording five strikeouts, including a 79-mph low curve to Robinson Cano that the Mariners’ slugger swung over for strike three in the fourth inning. The left-hander also said he used his changeup in a game for the first time all season.
“I’ve thrown them in the bullpen and when I warm up,” Pomeranz said. “Those were the first I’ve thrown (in a game), and it actually turned out pretty good, so I was pretty happy about that.”
Melvin was asked if Pomeranz might merit consideration for more starting assignments, but said: “I don’t make those decisions right after the game. We’re just trying to digest a win after losing three in a row.”
The A’s potentially lost more than a game Wednesday afternoon, as Crisp and Cook both exited because of injuries. Crisp left after slamming into the center-field wall making a catch in the fourth inning and was diagnosed with a neck strain, with Melvin terming him “day-to-day.” Cook, meanwhile, felt his right forearm tighten throwing a slider to strike out Corey Hart in the 10th inning and left with what was termed a forearm strain.
Melvin said Cook will likely undergo an MRI today, and that: “We’ve got our fingers crossed on both of them.”
Adding to the pain of the opener was the A’s inability to capitalize on their best showing against Hernandez in some time. They tagged the Seattle ace – who entered with a 1.74 ERA in his past eight starts in Oakland – for four runs (three earned) on 11 hits in 61/3 innings and didn’t strike out once, marking the first time in Hernandez’s 257 career starts that he threw more than five innings without a strikeout.
Brandon Moss’ RBI triple off Hernandez gave the A’s a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning, but the Mariners tied it in the eighth on Cano’s RBI single off Luke Gregerson and scored twice in the 10th to hand the A’s their sixth consecutive home loss – a streak they broke several hours later.
“It’s pretty demoralizing, but you have to go out there for a second game, and this team’s been resilient over the years,” Melvin said. “Three guys took over on the pitching end for us. And they came up huge.”