Athletics

Gray rebounds, bullpen falters in A's wild loss to Nationals

Gray rebounds, bullpen falters in A's wild loss to Nationals

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.

Watch Khris Davis' three-run ninth-inning home run give A's tie in Japan

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Watch Khris Davis' three-run ninth-inning home run give A's tie in Japan

Bob Melvin has seen this before. Even in Japan, Khris Davis is clutch.

With two outs and the A's down 6-3 in the ninth inning, Davis smashed a three-run homer over the left field wall to tie it up at 6-6 at the Tokyo Dome. The exhibition against the Nippon Ham-Fighters prevents extra innings and ended in a tie. 

"I literally said, 'I've seen this happen before,'" A's manager Melvin said to reporters after the game. 

The tie ended the A's exhibition series against the Fighters before their Opening Series games start against the Mariners. Oakland won the first exhibition, 5-1.

Davis was the hero, but Matt Chapman was the A's best player once again in the tie. Chapman went 2-for-2 with a walk, and went 5-for-5 in the two exhibition games. 

[RELATED: Five A's players who were cut but still could make impact]

The A's first run of the game came off in the second inning. Stephen Piscotty smashed a solo shot to left field to give Oakland an early lead. 

Brett Anderson started on the hill where he allowed two unearned runs while striking out four. Shortstop Marcus Semien committed two errors on the day. 

The A's open the regular season against the Mariners in Tokyo on Wednesday morning at 2:35 a.m. PT.

Five A's players who could make impact in 2019 season despite being cut

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Five A's players who could make impact in 2019 season despite being cut

One of the biggest keys to the A's success last season was their depth, and not just at the major league level. Oakland got significant contributions from several players who started the season in the minors. Names like Lou Trivino, Ramón Laureano, Nick Martini, Mark Canha and countless others played crucial roles after earning call-ups.

The A's hope to receive similar production from their farm system this season. With that in mind, here are five spring training cuts who could make an impact later this year:

Dustin Fowler

Fowler put together a strong spring, batting .293 (12-for-41) with two home runs, four RBI, and two stolen bases. That followed a terrific season in Triple-A last year, where he slashed .341/.364/.520. He will likely be the first outfielder called up this year.

Fowler struggled at the major league level last season but his upside is enormous. Still just 24 years old, he has plenty of time to put it all together in Oakland. With his combination of power and speed and the A's uncertainty in left field, Fowler will likely get another big league opportunity sooner rather than later.

Daniel Mengden

Mengden has already proven he can retire major league hitters. He just has to do it consistently. Last season, the right-hander went 7-6 with a 4.05 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, certainly respectable numbers in the American League.

Unfortunately for Mengden, the A's were granted a fourth minor league option and elected to use it in his case. The 26-year-old struggled a bit this spring, but with Oakland's questionable starting rotation, he will almost certainly get another chance in the coming months, or even weeks.

Tanner Anderson

The A's were very high on Anderson when they acquired him from the Pirates this offseason, and they're still high on him now, despite optioning him to Triple-A. The 25-year-old looked extremely sharp this spring, allowing just one earned run in nine innings, with 11 strikeouts.

Anderson has experience both as a starter and reliever, and the A's love his versatility. The right-hander could be a prime option as the second pitcher in "opener" games later in the season.

Jorge Mateo

Mateo has loads of natural ability but is still a bit raw at the plate. Still, the 23-year-old middle infielder is a dynamic talent with top-end speed and could be a tremendous weapon for the A's late in the season.

Mateo slashed just .230/.280/.353 last year in Triple-A but notched a league-leading 16 triples as well as 25 stolen bases. This spring, he went 5-for-18 with a double, triple, and three walks. At the very least, Mateo will be a valuable pinch-runner in September.

[RELATED: Mateo impresses A's in spring training]

Sean Murphy

Murphy is unquestionably the A's catcher of the future. The only question is when that future begins. Oakland appears set for now with Nick Hundley, Josh Phegley, and Chris Herrmann splitting time behind the plate, but Murphy will put pressure on all of them to perform.

MLB Pipeline ranks Murphy as the A's third-best prospect, behind only pitching phenoms Jesús Luzardo and A.J. Puk. Murphy is already MLB-ready defensively and his offensive production is improving rapidly. If he puts up big numbers in Triple-A, he could earn a promotion sometime this year.