Spring Game #28: A's haunted by Russell, long balls in loss

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Trades are a little bit like games. You win some, you lose some, sometimes they're even (speaking of you, unmemorable Spring Training games). Well, on Tuesday the A's lost a game, with the final score 9-5 in favor of the Cubs. They also got haunted by former Athletic Addison Russell, who smashed a two-run homer off ace Sonny Gray, but not everything is bad, as Chris Coghlan had another good game and continues to look like a steal.

Probably the biggest storyline on the A's side was Sonny Gray, coming of a "dead arm" and overall not pitching particularly well this spring. Today he pitched 5 innings of a 3-run ball, allowing 8 hits including two homeruns and striking out three batters without issuing a walk. Simple boxscore stat line doesn't do justice though. Gray was a little bit shaky early on, allowing a homerun to Kyle Schwarber on just the second pitch of the ballgame and a line-drive base hit to Zobrist later in the first inning, but he got out of any potential trouble with a groundball, well turned by Mark Canha and Marcus Semien for a double play.

An inning later, Gray couldn't thank his defense that much, as he got into another trouble after a well-hit ball by Montero, which Billy Burns could've got, and a blooper by Szczur, which Burns probably should've got. Instead, the ball fell right between three A's players for a double, putting the runners on second and third with two outs. Gray responded with an out number three off the bat of Arrieta, but not before Cubs' pitcher put up an impressive 9-pitch battle. The first two innings, Gray leaned heavily on his fastball, missing his spots occasionally. So he went back for the inning number three and absolutely blew away Cubs' star players. Schwarber led off the inning with a slow groundball basehit to the left of Coghlan, which probably would've been stopped by a more range-y second baseman, but after that, Sonny got Jason Heyward to a forceout, before showing his nasty offspeed stuff and fooling Ben Zobrist and Anthony Rizzo for a couple of beautiful strikeouts.

Fourth inning put the Cubs ahead for good, with Gray allowing a double to Montero before serving a two-run homerun to Addison Russell. That double also could've been caught by left-fielder Andrew Lambo, who seemed to misread the ball before losing it in the sun, but a homer by Russell was definitely a no-doubter.

Gray responded with a 1-2-3 fifth inning, his only of the evening, to close out his start. All in all, Sonny didn't keep the ball down in the zone as much as we're used to, which may have or may have not been a part of his plan, resulting in several flyballs, two of them over the fence. But his overall performance was pretty solid, and he should be ready to rock on Opening Day againt the White Sox.

Meanwhile, the A's bats were putting in a fight against one of the best pitchers in baseball, Jake Arrieta. He was forced to throw over a 100 pitches in 5 innings, caused by a number of strong long at-bats by the Athletics. Arrieta threw almost 30 pitches in the first inning alone, with Coghlan walking and Burns, Butler and Canha all getting to a full count. Oakland got a run on a Billy Butler RBI double, a well-hit liner into a right-center field gap, scoring Coghlan easily after he stole second base. Arrieta answered by retiring 8 straight Athletics, showing his Cy Young Award-winning stuff. But even though the A's touched him for only one run on two hits and two walks, one has to be delighted by forcing Arrieta out of the game after five innings. That could be pretty common in the regular season as well, as the A's put together a whole lineup of solid hitters who make the opposing pitcher work hard for almost every out.

This time it definitely paid off, as left-handed reliever Travis Wood allowed two homeruns in his two innings of work, one by Chris Coghlan and the other by Josh Phegley. Pedro Strop then pitched an easy 1-2-3 eight inning, before making his way to Cubs closer Hector Rondon. Rondon blew a save allowing three runs in the first game against the A's this spring, and today he was lucky he came into the game with a comfortable 6-run lead. He allowed three straight singles to Lambo, Maxwell and Chapman, before two of them scored on sac flies by Olson and Sportman.

As far as Oakland bullpen goes, John Axford continues his scoreless streak to start his career in a green and gold with a much Axford-y outing, showing some nasty stuff as well as walking two batters. The other two projected Opening Day bullpen members, though, allowed combined six runs. Mark Rzepczynski showed why he's a LOOGY, getting both left-handed hitters he faced out, but allowed a two-run homerun to right-handed batting Matt Szczur. Both runs are unearned though, as before that long ball Matt Chapman bobbled a slow grounder by Ross and instead of a tough play, there was no play at all. And for Fernando Rodriguez, this was a game to forget, as he allowed four runs, three of them via another long ball, this time by Kawasaki (maybe with some magical help by his fans in the crowd) before even recording an out. F-Rod has been fantastic so far this spring, though, so he's getting a pass here. And his troubles introduced us Lou Trivino, a single-A right-hander, who came in to get the final out of that inning, so hey, everything bad is good for something.

What was bad

The defense continues to look shaky, with Coghlan and Lambo showing their limited range and Burns taking his late jumps. Josh Phegley also had a bad defensive game, as he had trouble all game long blocking and catching some of the pitches. Bullpen allowed six runs in three innings, which is hopefully just a fluke, but it still definitely doesn't feel good to see after last year happenned. Mark Canha and Marcus Semien combined for exactly zero good at bats, both currently hitting under the Mendoza line. Matt Olson wasn't really tested in right field, si it's hard to evaluate his defensive ability there, but he still seems overmatched at the plate. He struck out twice on a close pitch on the outside corner, which is unlucky, but could've been prevented by, you know, actually swinging the bat sometimes.

What was good

Billy Butler reached base in all three plate appearances, recording two doubles, a walk and showing some impressive speed on the basepaths. Matt Chapman committed his second error of spring, but he also made a couple of strong accurate throws and had two hits including a double, raising his batting average to a very respectable .263. Chris Coghlan continues to look like a great addition to the ballclub, with his homer off of a lefty and a steal being a pleasant bonuses. John Axford wasn't dominant today, but still managed to throw a scoreless inning and is still yet to give up a run in green and gold. Sonny Gray seems pretty confident in his own ability, as he should be, and even in his last spring start experimented with his pitches. He also showed some nasty stuff and should be good to go for the regular season opener.

I'd like to one more time thank AN for this opportunity, I definitely enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to some regular season Oakland baseball, so here's to hope we'll get to enjoy an A's playoff baseball again this year. Go A's!