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Spring Game #25: A’s starting pitching falters against tough Dodgers lineup

But, hey, the bullpen looked good!

Oakland Athletics v Chicago Cubs
Paul Blackburn
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

To say A’s starting pitcher Paul Blackburn had a bad game against the Dodgers on Tuesday afternoon would be sugar-coating what must have been a horrifying game for the starting rotation hopeful.

It began with his third pitch, which the Dodgers’ Chris Taylor took deep to left for a leadoff home run. Things didn’t seem so bad when Blackburn struck out Corey Seager, who was batting second for the first out of the inning, but unfortunately things only went south for Blackburn.

With one out in the first, Blackburn then issued walks to the next two batters, Cody Bellinger and Matt Kemp. Those two walks scored as the fifth batter of the inning, Yasiel Puig, smoked a line-drive double to center fielder Dustin Fowler*. A batter later Blackburn allowed another double this time to Yasmani Grandal that plated Puig and put the Dodgers up 4-0 with still only one out in the inning. Chase Utley then singled to right field and it seemed like the inning might never end. Luckily for the Athletics, Blackburn got Enrique Hernandez to strike out swinging and Kyle Farmer to ground out to Matt Chapman at third to minimize the damage that had already been done.

With Matt Joyce leading off the bottom of the first for Oakland it seemed as though their luck might change when he tripled on a deep fly ball to center. Marcus Semien was up next when Dodgers’ starter Kenta Maeda was called on a balk on the first pitch of the at-bat, which of course advanced Joyce home to score the A’s first run of the game. After that, however, Maeda pitched efficiently through five innings, allowing just three hits while not allowing a walk and collecting three strikeouts.

*** Click here to revisit today’s Game Thread!***

Blackburn escaped the top of the second and the third relatively unscathed, save for allowing a walk to Seager and a solo home run to Grandal for his second RBI of the day. Things took a turn for the worse again in the fourth as Blackburn was credited with two more earned runs while getting just a single out. After Farmer led off the inning with a double and scored on a single by Seager, Blackburn’s day was done as Simon Castro came in to pitch with a runner on. Bellinger joined Seager on the basepaths as Castro walked his first batter, and both runners scored on Puig’s second double, giving him four RBI in as many innings.

After that the A’s pitching seemed to kick into gear and find its rhythm. Castro successfully navigated the remainder of the fourth and fifth innings. He gave way to Blake Treinen and Yusmeiro Petit, who pitched an inning each, both allowing a hit and each getting a strikeout. J.B. Wendelken was the best A’s pitcher on Tuesday, pitching an inning without allowing a hit or a walk and striking out two of the three batters he faced. Jake Sanchez pitched the ninth and despite allowing a pair of hits was able to end the inning without allowing a runner to score.

The A’s did score another run in the bottom of the seventh to make the final 8-2. Matt Olson started the inning with a double off of Dodgers’ reliever Scott Alexander. Slade Heathcott came in to run for Olson and later scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Fowler. Yet, that was the only run the A’s could muster against the Dodgers pitching Tuesday afternoon, which isn’t the norm for the little team that could with their usually big bats.

Even though the A’s bats couldn’t come alive against the Dodgers on Monday night or Tuesday afternoon, it’s likely they will start hitting the ball hard again soon with guys like Davis, Olson, and Chapman anchoring the lineup.

What was concerning Tuesday was Blackburn’s start. He’d been having a pretty good spring thus far, yet had been succeeding mostly against lower-level hitters. Tuesday he faced a tough Dodgers’ lineup that included the last two National League Rookies of the Year in Seager and Bellinger, along with veterans like Puig. It’s those types of lineups that he will be facing when he more than likely is placed in the starting rotation to start the season.

The A’s young and inexperienced rotation might be the team’s undoing come the regular season when they are facing big league superstars on what will be a fairly regular basis, especially when you look at the hitters in the American League West. On the brighter side of things, it seems that the plan to have a bullpen filled with guys who can eat up innings appears to be exactly what the A’s will need to win games in 2018. Even better, it was great to see Wendelken and Sanchez return to action with scoreless outings after lengthy injury recoveries.

*Note: If you had a chance to see the original lineup, Boog Powell was originally scheduled to play in center field with Khris Davis in left, but Davis was a late scratch for the game (thankfully, Davis had not suffered an injury but was simply feeling “under the weather” according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle). Powell was then moved to left field while Fowler took over in center and hit sixth in the lineup, meaning that Matt Olson and Stephen Piscotty were each moved up in the lineup to the fourth and fifth spots, respectively.