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Game #22: Curse of Verlander Strikes, A's Fall 9-4

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Sonny Gray pitched the shortest start of his career and the A's got little done against Justin Verlander.

The one bright spot in today's game.
The one bright spot in today's game.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Today was not our day, as pretty much every aspect of the Oakland's game fell far short in today's 9-4 loss to the Tigers. Sonny Gray gave up 4 runs in only 2 innings, the shortest start of his career, and despite our offense getting opportunities, we couldn't make up the deficit as the bullpen (mostly Hendriks) handed over unnecessary runs to put the game out of reach.

Sonny Never Had It

I'll keep this part short like Sonny's start.

The first inning gave Sonny some trouble, but he was able to escape without damage. Sonny struck out Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera, but he also gave up a walk to JD Martinez and hit Victor Martinez in the foot with a pitch. It took him 25 pitches, but that would look like a breeze compared to the next inning.

Nick Castellanos led off with a triple, and after giving up two walks and an RBI groundout, JD Martinez hit a bomb to right center field to put the Tigers up 4-0. Sonny would yield another walk to Miguel Cabrera before ending the inning. The second inning alone took 40 pitches, bringing Sonny's count up to 65 for the day, where it would remain.

Sonny's curveball looked deadly initially, but he ultimately lost control of all of his pitches, and he never really had command of his fastball to begin with. Nearly half of Sonny's pitches were balls, and by the end of the 2nd inning his fastball velocity was down to only 90mph. I'm assuming this is just because he had to throw 40 pitches without a break, but it was still worrying considering everything else.

Sonny still hasn't had an outing this season where I thought he really looked 100%. He's generally gotten good results before today, but he hasn't looked as sharp as he has in years past and has been giving up a lot more walks than usual, even before the clowncar of disaster that was today's start. Last week in Toronto was probably his best start of the season, where he lasted several innings before giving up a couple of runs to an admittedly deadly Toronto lineup, but even then he didn't seem totally locked in. I don't know if I should be worried quite yet, as again, his results have been solid overall, but I'm anxiously awaiting another truly dominant Gray Day.

Offense Struggles Against Verlander

Justin Verlander is a shadow of his former self, in terms of velocity and stuff, and yet the A's continue to make him look like a dominant pitcher. Apparently he struggles against every team this season but us.

The A's did nothing the first 2 innings, then got some action in the 3rd with the help of a couple walks. With the bases loaded and one out, Coghlan chased two pitches in the dirt to strike out. Reddick came next. He was aggressive and fell behind in the count, only to pop up and let Verlander escape the inning unscathed. It was a mess.

The 4th inning started out promising but went downhill extremely rapidly. Khris Davis opened up the 4th inning with a great at-bat. He took six pitches before KHRUSHING the seventh into left center field for a home run - unfortunately, yet another solo home run for the A’s, who seem to struggle with the long ball with runners on. Lowrie, Butler, and Alonso followed and went down on only nine total pitches. It’s hard to say whose at-bat was worse - Lowrie’s 3-pitch strikeout, Butler grounding out to 3rd while ahead in the count, or Alonso’s first pitch pop-up. When in doubt, I’ll say Butler.

The A’s made an attempt at a rally in the 7th inning. Jed Lowrie hit a bloop double down the left field line that Upton couldn’t quite get to, then Billy Butler hit a booming double to center field. Yonder Alonso hit yet another pop out, but then Phegley singled and Verlander was finally, mercifully, pulled from the game. Semien struck out and then Crisp came through in the clutch with two outs, hitting a single to right field to score Butler and take the score to 8-3. Alex Wilson was replaced on the mound by lefty Justin Wilson (no relation) to face Canha, and Canha struck out looking on 3 strikes to dash the A’s hopes once and for all.

With 1 out in the 8th, Khris Davis drilled yet another ball, this time to right center field. It didn’t look like it was hit that hard, but it carried all the way to the wall and Martinez wasn’t able to make the catch, allowing Davis to cruise into 3rd. Lowrie hit a sharp groundball past the shortstop to score Davis, the first time the A’s would get a runner home from 3rd with less than 2 outs all night.

Bullpen 'til the End

The A's would use 3 relievers for 2 innings each to finish the game: Dull, Hendriks, and Rzepczynski. Give them some credit, at least they spared the rest of the pen from getting overworked.

Dull's 3rd was clean besides a single, if a little high on the pitch count. The fourth was uglier.

Semien committed his second error of the season to open up the bottom of the fourth. The speedy Anthony Gose hit a ground ball directly to Semien, but he failed to pick it up cleanly, then made a panicked throw that pulled Alonso off the bag. Dull promptly followed up with an error of his own, with his pickoff throw missing Alonso by a mile and allowing Gose to go all the way around to 3rd. Khris Davis made a very nice catch to turn a JD Martinez double into a sacrifice and bring the score to 5-1. Ryan Dull gave up some loud contact including a Cabrera double before escaping the inning, and we saw Hendriks warming up in the bullpen, which pretty much told us everything we needed to know about our chances in this game.

But actually, Hendriks pitched a great bottom of the 5th, the best inning he’s thrown all season. He got strikeouts for all 3 outs, and the only hit he gave up was a bloop single to Jose Iglesias. And all on only 11 pitches! He had pinpoint control with his fastball and did a good job of keeping his curveball down out of the zone, but close enough to tempt Tigers batters into bad swings.

After flashing brilliance, Hendriks was back to being terrible in the 6th. He couldn’t find the strike zone, and when he could, it was a perfectly straight fastball in exactly the wrong spot. Hendriks gave up back-to-back singles to JD Martinez and Miguel Cabrera before giving up a back-breaking home run to V-Mart to bring the score to 1-8. Hendriks has looked unbelievably, ridiculously hittable in every single appearance he has made this season except the 5th inning today.

Rzepczynski walked Jose Iglesias to lead off the 7th, but got two groundballs in a row, including a double play, to quickly shut down the inning. Zep gave up a double to JD Martinez with one out and allowed him to score with two wild pitches. The second was particularly frustrating, as the ball bounced hard off the wall back to Phegley and there may have been a play at the plate if Zep had hustled in instead of casually strolling towards home while the runner came in. On the next pitch, he struck out Justin Upton to end the inning with the score 4-9. Oh, and somewhere in there Mark Canha made a nice diving stop and great throw to get the runner while playing third base.

Tomorrow is another day and one final chance to win this road trip 6-4. Let's go Oakland!