Athletics

Doolittle wins ninth-inning battle with former teammate Moss in A's win

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AP

Doolittle wins ninth-inning battle with former teammate Moss in A's win

KANSAS CITY — Brandon Moss shared some pretty powerful emotions with his former A’s teammates at Kauffman Stadium three seasons ago.

There was more drama for the A’s in that ballpark Monday, and this time Moss was wearing enemy colors. He came to the plate for the Royals in the bottom of the ninth representing the go-ahead run, with Kansas City runners on the corners and two outs with the A’s clinging to a 2-0 lead.

On the mound for Oakland was lefty Sean Doolittle. Calling pitches behind the plate was Stephen Vogt. All three were on the same side in 2014, when the A’s lost a 9-8 heartbreaker to the Royals in the American League Wild Card game.

“He’s one of my favorite people over there. We know him well,” Vogt said. “That’s all I told Doo. I just went out there and said, ‘Let’s go, you and me right now.’”

Doolittle and Vogt won the battle of good friends. Moss went down swinging on a 94 mile-per-hour fastball and the A’s clinched a 2-0 victory in front 40,019 fans on hand for the Royals’ home opener.

Moss went from journeyman to All-Star while with the A’s from 2012-14, hitting a career-high 30 home runs in 2013. He was at his best in that Wild Card loss, hitting two homers and driving in five runs in a performance that seemed like it would carry the A’s into the next round. Instead, the Royals came back to win a thriller in 12 innings.

“It was a little bit weird, just because I know what he’s capable of and what he did in this ballpark for us,” Doolittle said. “He’s a presence in the box anytime he comes to the plate, but especially when he comes to the plate as the go-ahead run in a pressure situation.”

Leading up to the Moss at-bat, Doolittle struck out both lefties he faced — Mike Moustakas on a sharp slider and Eric Hosmer on a 96 mile-per-hour fastball.

But Lorenzo Cain walked and then Salvador Perez singled with two outs and put runners on the corners. Doolittle came through against his former teammate and the A’s took the opener of this three-game series to even their record at 4-4.

“Definitely, the emotions were flying when the three of us were on the stage right there,” Vogt said. “It’s always fun.”

Adding insult to injury: A's must regroup after rough start to season

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USATSI

Adding insult to injury: A's must regroup after rough start to season

It's hard to imagine a worse start to the season for the Oakland A's.

Sure it's only two games, but the A's return home from Japan with a pair of losses on the field and two more off of it.

On Wednesday we learned that talented left-hander Jesús Luzardo will be shut down for four to six weeks with a strained rotator cuff. That's a significant blow to an already thin starting rotation.

Then in Thursday's game, first baseman Matt Olson left with right-hand discomfort after fouling off a pitch in the fifth inning. According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser, Olson had trouble gripping a bat after the foul ball.

Of course, it's much too early to panic. Even if Olson has to miss some time, the A's have the infield depth to get by without him. Mark Canha, Chad Pinder, and Jurickson Profar can all play first base and Franklin Barreto can play second.

The real concern lies in the starting pitching. Luzardo wasn't a sure thing to make the rotation out of spring camp, but he certainly figured to be a factor at some point in the near future. Without him, the A's might need help.

Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada, the team's top two starters, both struggled in their season debuts. Fiers only lasted three innings, allowing five earned runs. Estrada got through five innings, giving up three earned runs and two home runs.

The A's are counting on Fiers and Estrada to pitch much better than they did in Japan. Whether they can anchor the rotation throughout the season remains to be seen.

Veteran left-hander Brett Anderson is penciled in as the number three starter, though he struggled much of last year, both with performance and injuries. Frankie Montas will start the year as the number four starter, with Aaron Brooks and Chris Bassitt battling for the number five job.

Starting pitching is clearly the weak point of an otherwise excellent roster. Oakland's hitting, defense, and bullpen are all good enough to reach the postseason and perhaps even the World Series.

[RELATED: A's running out of options following Luzardo injury]

The big question will be whether the A's starters can deliver five solid innings to give the offense and bullpen a chance. Fiers couldn't in his debut. Estrada did a bit better, but it still wasn't enough.

The A's now have a chance to regroup and reset before their home opener March 28 against the Angels. From there, they'll have 160 games to try to repeat last year's magic.
 

Jesús Luzardo's injury a major blow for A's, as team scrambles for options

Jesús Luzardo's injury a major blow for A's, as team scrambles for options

Oakland's already shaky starting rotation took a major blow Wednesday night when it was revealed that 21-year-old left-hander Jesús Luzardo would be shut down for four to six weeks with a rotator cuff strain.

While Luzardo has not yet thrown a major league pitch, the A's top prospect appeared poised to make the starting rotation following a phenomenal spring training. His big league debut will now have to wait and Oakland will have to scramble to shore up its rotation.

In the short term, the competition for the A's number five starter job is likely down to right-handers Chris Bassitt and Aaron Brooks. Bassitt still has a minor league option remaining while Brooks does not, giving the latter a slight edge.

In the bigger picture, the A's will likely have to add another starting pitcher to the mix. Veteran right-hander Edwin Jackson remains available on the free agent market and the team has been in contact with him throughout the offseason. The 35-year-old put together a strong 2018 season in Oakland and was a critical presence in the clubhouse.

As it currently stands, the A's starting rotation features Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Brett Anderson, Frankie Montas, and either Brooks or Bassitt. Right-hander Jharel Cotton and southpaws Sean Manaea and A.J. Puk are still recovering from injuries but should be back in the mix sometime this season.

[RELATED: Matt Olson exits game with hand discomfort]

Unfortunately, the A's can't afford to sit around and wait for their potential returns. Signing Jackson has gone from a luxury to a necessity. His return would at least give Oakland four veteran starters to hold down the fort until reinforcements arrive. 

Oakland still features one of the best bullpens in all of baseball, which means they don't need their starters to go more than five innings. They just need pitchers who can keep them in the game early on. Jackson has certainly proven more than capable of that.