OAKLAND — The A’s and Nationals played a game that began as a pitcher’s duel and morphed into a slugfest.
How unusual was the A’s 11-10 defeat Sunday? Nats reliever Shawn Kelley gave up a ninth-inning grand slam and still walked away with the save.
There was a lot to take in on a wild afternoon at the Coliseum, so we’ll break it off in pieces:
—It was easy to lose sight of it, but Sonny Gray turned in a rebound performance. After getting knocked around for seven runs in 4 2/3 innings in his previous start at Cleveland, the right-hander was back in sharp form Sunday. He gave up three runs over seven innings, but even his day was a little odd.
Gray breezed through the first five innings, facing just one over the minimum, before things took a turn in the sixth. Washington put up three runs over a four-batter span to erase a 1-0 A’s lead. Gray issued a leadoff walk to Matt Wieters, Michael Taylor singled and then Trae Turner drilled a two-run triple off the wall in right center. Brian Goodwin followed with a sacrifice fly and the A’s suddenly trailed 3-1. But Gray’s fastball had hop, and he once again had hitters waving at strike-three sliders in the dirt, including Bryce Harper twice.
“I had a couple hitters that took advantage of a couple mistakes,” Gray said, “and then Turner, you get him into a hitter’s count and throw him a heater and he put a really good swing on it. Other than that, I felt like I threw the ball OK.”
Gray’s ERA is 4.57 after seven starts, but the bigger story is his stuff once again resembled his 2015 Cy Young-contending form. If that continues, Gray will remain a strong trade candidate as the July 31 deadline approaches.
—A’s manager Bob Melvin had to pick his poison in the top of the eighth with the score 3-3. With a runner on second and one out, he walked Harper intentionally after Ryan Madson fell behind 2-0, bringing up Ryan Zimmerman, who leads or is tied for the National League lead in all three Triple Crown categories. After a double steal, Madson fell behind 3-1 to Zimmerman, who launched the next pitch for a go-ahead three-run homer. For those wondering why Melvin didn’t just walk Zimmerman to load the bases and set up a force, consider that waiting on deck was the left-handed hitting Daniel Murphy. He’s hitting .340 with 40 RBI, and lefties came in batting .286 against Madson, righties .143.
“There are a lot of factors in there, and it’s not getting any easier as you go along,” Melvin said of the Nats’ batting order. “… You’re just hoping it works out and you give yourself the best chance you possibly can to get out of the inning.”
—Khris Davis didn’t get his planned day off, and that paid off. He was a late addition to the lineup with Mark Canha scratched because of illness. Davis was 3-for-23 over his previous six games, but he doubled in his first plate appearance and then lined a two-run homer off the left field foul pole to tie it in the seventh. It was his 17th homer, as Davis keeps trying to fend off Yonder Alonso for the team lead. He’s one behind the Yankees’ Aaron Judge for the AL lead.
—If only the A’s bullpen could have held down the fort in the late innings … The Nats scored a combined eight runs over the final two frames to build an 11-4 cushion. That proved very important as the A’s sprang to life to score six runs in the bottom of the ninth and fall just short. Oakland’s bullpen has a 5.65 ERA over the last 38 games. Rookie Frankie Montas, who gave up five runs Sunday, has a 6.11 ERA and has allowed seven homers in 28 innings.
—Is Matt Joyce showing signs of turning things around? The A’s can only hope so. He hit a grand slam to key the ninth-inning rally and singled and scored in his at-bat before that. Melvin is going with Joyce as his leadoff man right now, and the fact that Joyce is hitting just .195 with a .302 on-base percentage says all you need to know about the A’s current leadoff situation.