Athletics

Instant Replay: Bullpen coughs up lead, A's fall to Rangers again

Instant Replay: Bullpen coughs up lead, A's fall to Rangers again

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The A’s put themselves in position for victory for the second night in a row, only to be dealt Texas-sized heartbreak once again.

The Rangers scored four runs in the seventh off an Oakland bullpen that’s suddenly looking very vulnerable, and Texas pocketed a 6-5 win at Globe Life Park.

Sonny Gray was in line for his first victory since last summer as the A’s took a 4-2 lead entering the bottom of the seventh. But the Rangers struck big off Ryan Dull and Liam Hendriks. They loaded the bases off Dull, who began the inning, then Elvis Andrus tied the game with a two-run single off Hendriks and Nomar Mazara added a two-run double for a 6-4 Rangers lead.

The bullpen opened this six-game road trip not having allowed a run over three consecutive games. But closer Santiago Casilla coughed up a 2-1 lead Friday and the ‘pen couldn’t hold Saturday’s lead, zapping the momentum the A’s had built on a 4-2 homestand. At 16-20, they fell back into sole possession of last place in the American League West.

Starting pitching report:
Gray was in line for his first victory since July 26 after throwing six innings of two-run ball. It was his best of three starts since coming back off the disabled list. He held the Rangers to five hits, walking two and striking out three over 106 pitches.

Bullpen report:
Dull’s results have not been great when pitching on the back end of back-to-back outings. His ERA shot up to 14.40 (8 ER in 5 IP) when pitching on no days’ rest. He loaded the bases on a single and two walks when Melvin called for Hendriks with one out. The righty had been excellent of late with nine consecutive scoreless outings, but he gave up the costly tying and go-ahead hits, with three of the four runs that inning charged to Dull (1-2).

At the plate:
The A’s, 2-for-25 with runners in scoring position over their previous four games heading into the night, got a couple hits in the clutch in building their lead. Yonder Alonso delivered a two-out run scoring single in the fourth to tie the game. Then Matt Joyce’s two-run single in the fifth gave them a 3-2 lead. Trailing 6-4 in the eighth, Alonso struck again with his 12th homer, turning around a 97 mile-per-hour fastball from Keona Kela.

Roster note:
Jaff Decker cleared waivers and the A’s outrighted the outfielder to Triple-A Nashville.

In the field:
Neither team committed an error.

Attendance:
37,898

Up next:
Kendall Graveman (2-2, 3.67) takes the ball as the A’s close out this three-game series Sunday at 12:05 p.m. Former Athletic A.J. Griffin (4-0, 2.45) has been excellent for Texas this season, helping to make up for the injury to Cole Hamels.

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

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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.