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Game #22: Bullpen woes continue, A's lose 6-3

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 A’s seem to have a knack for heartbreaking losses, at least in the early going. Today’s game was especially bad. A hardfought comeback was immediately returned by the bullpen, which continues to look shakier and shakier.

The game started off badly, with a 2-run first inning. I’ve always had a sneaking suspicion Jesse Hahn was just Sonny Gray in a Brett Anderson mask, and here’s my confirmation. Just like last night, the Angels worked a leadoff walk and a single into two runs. And just like last night, the threat was ended by bad baserunning — Aybar ended the threat by being caught stealing with two outs. It’s eerie, right?

After that, Jesse Hahn was… okay. Not great by any means. Even after the first inning he was shaky, and he struggled through a velocity dip starting in the 4th (his 93 MPH fastball dipped to 89-90, maybe indicating fatigue or a struggle with his blister). He got in too many deep counts, and too many Angels hitters managed to foul off his pitches. That said, he did collect 6 Ks, a season high. That’s 6 more than his last start, and that’s really fantastic news.

His only big mistake in the middle innings was a hanging two-seamer that Mike Trout launched into near-Earth orbit. My new favorite toy, Statcast, had the ball as traveling 454 feet at 110 miles per hour. That’s impressive. Mike Trout is impressive.

Matt Shoemaker started off much stronger. The offense made little noise until the 4th inning. Marcus Semien doubled (his second of the game), and Stephen Vogt drove him in to collect his 15th RBI of the year. But the A’s were still down 3-1 to Shoemaker, who was quickly settling down.

Hahn only managed 5 innings, so the bullpen had to pitch a scoreless 4 to survive. And it started out okay! Dan Otero pitched a near-perfect 6th (Albert Pujols lined a single, but was quickly erased by a double play), a fantastic sign from the anchor of last year’s bullpen.

The offense did its part to pull this game out, too: after Semien’s third hit of the day, Ike Davis drove him in with a hard double to right. Josh Reddick drove him in with a single, and the game was tied.

But then the bullpen imploded. Ryan Cook started off the 7th with a leadoff walk and allowed a ridiculous seeing-eye groundball to Matt Joyce to put runners on first and third. After a strikeout, a single to Johnny Giavotella (the Athletics’ greatest nemesis and history’s greatest monster) broke the tie, 4-3. Fernando Abad came in, and promptly walked another batter to load the bases.

Evan Scribner, apparently the A’s only undeniably great reliever, was called in to face Mike Trout. Alas, Mike Trout is good. A double down the left-field line left the score at 6-3, where it would stay.

Chris Bassitt pitched the final two innings, striking out 3 in a really impressive performance. Expect him to get higher leverage spots as Melvin tries to find a combination that works.

The A’s did nothing against Joe Smith and Huston Street in their halves of the final innings, because apparently not all bullpens suck. In my opinion, this is an oversight of the baseball gods.

So, obviously this is another failure placed squarely upon the bullpen, and obviously this is a huge problem on this (mostly pretty good!) team. The biggest problem is that I don’t know what to really do with them. The bullpen mix right now is Clippard, Scribner, Otero, Cook, O’Flaherty, Bassitt, and Abad. Of those 7, Scribner has been great, Otero and Clippard have been fine, Abad’s been less than fine, Cook and Bassitt are wildcards, and O’Flaherty has been really bad.

If you want to add a reliever, you’re going to need to clear two spots — one for the new guy, one for Sean Doolittle.

Do two of these guys deserve to go down? O’Flaherty’s the obvious choice, but it remains to be seen if the A’s would be willing to eat his salary and release him. Bassitt’s shown quite a lot of potential out of the bullpen. Cook only has 1.1 innings under his belt this year, so I wouldn’t pull the trigger on him just yet. It’s a weird situation where no one’s been especially bad but as a group they’ve been awful.

Either way, don’t expect the front office to react quickly. They believed in this group going into the season, and beyond some reshuffling of the roles, I can’t imagine that April has changed their minds. Relievers are volatile and weird, and ask the Tigers how easy it is to reconstruct a bullpen midseason.

This game sucked but the offense is still humming along nicely. Reddick and Semien were the stars of the game, and they are now hitting .358/.424/.566 and .298/.337/.476 respectively.

The A’s will try to involve the bullpen as little as possible as they try to salvage a series victory tomorrow at 12:35. Hopefully it’s less soulcrushing this time.