The Oakland Athletics entered their first day game of the young season looking to tie the opening four game series and even their record on the year.
Unfortunately, that did not pan out as a a 6th inning two run shot by Jose Abreu ended the Kendall Graveman-Mat Latos pitchers duel and created a deficit the home Athletics would never rebound from.
The game opened with 5 straight innings of scoreless baseball as Graveman induced a number of ground balls and worked around early errors by SS Marcus Semien and 3B Danny Valencia. Graveman struck out four in the first five innings, including two inning-ending K's of former Athletic Brett Lawrie. Graveman yielded just two hits in the first five innings.
Meanwhile, the Athletics were turning in a meek offensive performance against the White Sox RHP Latos in his first outing of the season. Latos worked a hitless and walkless 1st through 4th inning, with the only imperfection being a Todd Frazier error in the 1st. Chris Coghlan finally secured the A's first hit in the bottom of the 5th. Semien also walked in the 5th before Latos escaped the jam, with help from a nice play by Lawrie on the final out, a 4-6 fielder's choice hit by Coco Crisp.
The 6th inning brought the game-deciding runs. Melky Cabrera led off with a foreboding four pitch walk and then Graveman yielded the two run shot to the powerful Abreu. Graveman got Frazier out in the next at bat and then left the game for Fernando Rodriguez. Graveman's final line was 5.1 IP, 3 hits, 2 runs (earned), 1 BB, 4 K. He threw 84 pitches and took the official loss.
The A's bats continued to scuffle with their 4th 1-2-3 inning in the 6th inning, before making a threat in the bottom of the 7th. Valencia led off with a walk and took 2nd on a wild pitch. Stephen Vogt then hit a frisbee into right field, which resulted in runners on 1st and 3rd with no outs. Unfortunately, due to questionable roster management (specifically OF Andrew Lambo being on the roster over utility man Tyler Ladendorf, along with backup MIF Jed Lowrie starting at DH), Chris Coghlan had to bat vs. left handed reliever Zach Duke and predictably struck out. Mark Canha then hit for Yonder Alonso and popped out against White Sox RHP Matt Albers, again failing to plate the runner from 3rd with less then two outs. Lambo then hit for Marcus Semien (resulting in the A's losing their DH spot due to Lowrie needing to take over at SS), and Lambo grounded out to end the threat.
The 7th ended up being the A's biggest threat of the game and highlighted the questionable organizational decision to have an additional corner bat on the roster rather than the potentially extremely useful utility fielder. This issue was magnified by the start of Lowrie at DH, which resulted in no bench middle infielders for the game, despite having a five position player bench.
Fernando Rodriguez and Ryan Dull pitched very well to preserve the 2-0 margin, and were split by Marc Rzepczynski, who yielded a leadoff double to the pesky Adam Eaton (9 for 16 in the series), before getting a Cabrera groundout and giving way to Dull. Dull struck out both Abreu and the also-dangerous Frazier to end the inning and keep the margin at two runs.
The A's could get nothing going in the 8th despite a leadoff walk to Crisp.
The top of the 9th extended the margin to 6-0, as Liam Hendriks had a forgettable outing. Hendriks gave up base hits to Avisail Garcia, Lawrie, Dioner Navarro, Tyler Saladino, Eaton and Cabrera, and a sacrifice fly to Abreu, before getting Frazier out to end the inning with four runs of damage.
The A's scored their lone run in the 9th on a Valencia leadoff hit, followed by his taking of 2nd on defensive indifference and a Coghlan one out RBI single. That would be it for the Athletics however.
Observing the game, the positives were the outing by Graveman aside from his rocky 6th, and the middle relief of Rodriguez and Dull. Dull especially remained very impressive in the early going of the season and has made it clear he is serious about remaining on the MLB roster.
The negatives were the early shaky defense (although it did not lead to any scores), and the bats being blacked out by Latos. For the A's to compete in 2016, the bats will need to awaken and not waste solid pitching performances like Graveman provided. The blow up by Hendriks in the 9th is also a negative, as it destroyed all realistic hope for a walk off come back.
Finally, the decision to have 8 corner bats on the roster and just 3 players who can play middle infield had an affect on the game that cannot be ignored.
The A's head to Seattle for their first road series of the year, starting tomorrow at 7 PM in Safeco Field. Manager Bob Melvin announced that Eric Surkamp will start the Friday meeting. The corresponding 40-man and 25-man roster moves have not been announced.