Athletics

Tempers boil over as A's strike out 14 times in defeat

Tempers boil over as A's strike out 14 times in defeat

NEW YORK — As their frustration mounted inning after inning, the A’s afternoon seemed destined to end in ugly and disappointing fashion.

So it was that Matt Joyce walked away from home plate visibly baffled after a game-ending strikeout that cemented a 3-2 loss to the Yankees on Saturday. The A’s struck out 14 times in a game that included ejections for manager Bob Melvin and second baseman Jed Lowrie, and lots of puzzled looks over the strike zone of home plate umpire Will Little.

Lowrie was doing a slow burn throughout all of his at-bats. He struck out looking in three of his four plate appearances, and if you go by the location of pitches as presented by the mlb.com Gameday tracker, he had a justifiable gripe.

It came to a head when Little rang him up in the eighth inning, with Lowrie arguing and getting a quick ejection, the first of his 10-year career.

“All I’m gonna say is I got the bat taken out of my hands three times today,” he said afterward.

Later in the eighth, Trevor Plouffe appeared to perhaps hold up on a check swing. It didn’t matter, as Little rang him up on a Dellin Betances slider that appeared high. Melvin got ejected protesting from the dugout and then went out to get a few more words in.

“A lot of frustration, in big situations,” the manager said.

On the game’s final at-bat, Joyce worked the count to 3-1 against Betances and was so sure he’d gotten ball four that he unsnapped his shin guard in anticipation of taking first. But Little called strike two. Joyce swung through the next pitch for the final out.

By the end, the Yankees had pocketed a victory despite collecting just two hits, including Matt Holliday’s two-run homer off Jharel Cotton (3-5) in the sixth that snapped a 1-1 tie. Cotton had a no-hitter going until then.

New York’s odd victory also ended an odd trend between these teams — the road team had won each of the previous eight games they’d played.

Ryon Healy’s RBI double scored Khris Davis from first to tie the game 1-1 in the top of the sixth. Holliday, who spent the first half of 2009 with Oakland before being shipped to St. Louis, homered to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead. Then A’s catcher Josh Phegley came back with a solo shot in the seventh to bring Oakland within a run.

The A’s have split the first two of this three-game series in the Bronx. But you can’t spotlight their dissatisfaction with Saturday’s strike zone without also pointing out they struck out 13 times on Friday night too. They’ll need to make more of their at-bats to take Sunday’s rubber match.

“It is what it is,” Phegley said when asked to sum up the day. “We were no-hitting the Yankees and losing. I think we wanted a little more offensive production but that’s just the way the game went. We just didn’t make the best of the opportunities we had. Obviously I feel like like there were some walks we had, we worked the counts pretty well, and it didn’t go in our favor. That’s just the way it goes.”

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.