OAKLAND -- Those skeptical of the A’s high-profile trade with the Boston Red Sox on Thursday may have pointed to the fact that the A’s had a strong starting rotation without Jon Lester, and that they were giving up a key piece of their offense in Yoenis Cespedes to further bolster what was already strength. General manager Billy Beane countered on Thursday by describing baseball as a "zero-sum game."
"The less runs you give up, the less you have to score," Beane said.
It was one (ironically timed) game, but Friday’s 1-0 A’s loss to the Kansas City Royals likely did little to quiet those skeptics. In the first game of the post-Cespedes era, the A’s scratched out five hits against Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie and three relievers in being shut out for the first time since July 1.
The A’s did have chances -- they stranded eight runners on base, leaving two on in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings. In the fourth and sixth, they put runners on the corners with one out for cleanup hitter Brandon Moss. But Moss popped out in foul territory in the fourth and struck out in the sixth, and both times Jed Lowrie followed by striking out looking to end the inning.
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Cespedes, even when he wasn’t hitting well, had an effect in the A’s lineup with his sheer presence. Everybody -- opposing pitchers included -- knew the impact he could have with one swing lurking in the middle of the A’s order. Now that that’s gone, Melvin was asked whether other A’s hitters might feel the need to do more to make up for it, and press a bit at the plate as a result.
"I mean, there’s got to be a little more time to evaluate that," Melvin said. "We haven’t been that good offensively here regardless over the last -- really on the road trip, certainly in the last three games. Tonight, debatable whether it was our at-bats or the pitching. And I think a lot of it had to do with their pitching tonight."
Guthrie matched a season-low with three hits allowed, and Melvin said he mixed pitches well to keep the A’s off-balance. Lowrie said Guthrie made pitches to the corners of the plate -- and may have benefited from home-plate umpire Mike Estabrook’s strike zone. Lowrie, who struck out looking three times and twice expressed frustration at the called third strike, said afterward he thought the zone was wide all night, not just for Guthrie.
"I think you look at the frustration coming out of both dugouts," Lowrie said. "It was just a frustrating night to be a hitter, because the strike zone was probably a little bigger than the guidelines say it should be. But once again, I don’t think it was one-sided, it was just a good night to be a pitcher. A 1-0 game with nine hits, it shows."
Still, Lowrie too was asked about the effect on the lineup of losing Cespedes. Lowrie was batting fifth Friday after spending most of the last few months in the sixth or seventh spot as he tried to hit his way out of a lengthy slump.
"I can’t speak for anybody else in this clubhouse, but I know all I can do is be the same guy that I’ve always been," Lowrie said. "I don’t think they (the front office) expect anyone to step up, they just want guys to be who they are."
Moss nearly made this a non-issue in his sixth-inning at-bat, when he crushed a 2-0 pitch from Guthrie but hooked it just foul down the right-field line. That he and the rest of the A’s couldn’t come up with the timely hit Friday did not have Melvin panicking.
"You always feel good when Brandon’s up in those situations," Melvin said. "Typically he can get the ball in the air and comes through. He just didn’t this time."
* The lack of offense spoiled another strong outing by Sonny Gray, who allowed three hits in seven innings with no walks and seven strikeouts. One of the hits, however, left the field of play -- Raul Ibanez’s fifth-inning homer on a first-pitch fastball that Ibanez hit just over the 362-foot marker in right-center field.
"We just didn’t give him anything today," Melvin said. "Certainly nothing to hang his head about, because he gives up one run. He’s been as consistent as a pitcher can be."
Gray said he wanted to "attack" the Royals hitters and just got burned by Ibanez.
"He jumped on the first pitch and hit a homer," Gray said. "Plenty of times they swing at the first pitch and ground it out. He just got that one."
Gray lost for the first time since June 13 against New York, after winning six decisions in a row. His ERA over his last eight starts is still a crisp 2.00, as he ended July with a legit case for Pitcher of the Month honors -- he went 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA in five starts.
"Obviously I had a good month, but that doesn’t matter," Gray said. "I think what you’ve done in the past doesn’t really matter. It’s what you’ve got to continue to do."
* Sam Fuld reached base twice out of the leadoff spot on a double in the fourth and walk in the sixth. Melvin said there’s "a good chance" Fuld will lead off again Saturday, even with the Royals throwing a left-hander in Jason Vargas.
Melvin pointed out that Fuld’s numbers this season are actually better against left-handed pitchers (.300 average and .830 OPS) than right-handers (.250 and .684). Speaking of hot Julys, Fuld hit .358 last month (24-for-67) with 10 RBIs, 16 walks and nine strikeouts. So the A’s may have brought him back at a particularly good time.
* It looks like if the Royals can get to the seventh inning with a lead, they’re pretty tough. They brought Kelvin Herrera in for the seventh -- and he hit 99 mph on the radar gun. He, Wade Davis in the eighth and closer Greg Holland in the ninth all had two strikeouts, and Holland recorded his 30th save, tied for the A.L. lead with Fernando Rodney.
* The A’s aren’t just replacing Cespedes’ bat -- his defense, particularly his arm, was an asset as well. Moss drew the first assignment Friday and equipped himself well, making a sliding catch on a sinking liner from Mike Moustakas in the second inning and ranging to the corner for a slicing Alcides Escobar fly ball in the fifth.
* Melvin was asked again after the game about Coco Crisp, who has had some "trigger-point" injections in recent days to address his ailing neck and did not do any field work Friday, and said Crisp will likely be unavailable again Saturday.
Melvin said the A’s will have a better idea of Crisp’s timeline "as soon as he hits on the field, or in the cage, (but) he hasn’t been able to do that yet."
* It was a positive night for at least one A’s hitter. Josh Reddick had three of the A’s five hits, including a ninth-inning double, and is 13-for-35 with seven extra-base hits since he returned from the DL on July 22.
* Our story on the arrival of Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes and Fuld can be found here. Lester makes his A’s debut Saturday against Kansas City left-hander Jason Vargas (8-4, 3.31). The A’s are still planning on handing out 10,000 "La Potencia" T-shirts with Cespedes’ image. "Kind of ironic," Lester said. Indeed. First pitch at 1:05 p.m.