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Game #68: Tanner Anderson strong in debut, but A’s shut down by Rays

Tampa Bay wins series opener 6-2.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s got a strong start from an unproven rookie on Monday, but they weren’t able to take advantage of it in a 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tanner Anderson, acquired last winter in a minor trade, made the first start of his MLB career and held his own against a first-place team. He kept the Rays scoreless for five innings, before finally giving up a two-run homer in the sixth to Brandon Lowe. In the end, his line was just one out short of a technical quality start, and more importantly it kept his team in the game: 5⅔ ip, 2 runs, 5 Ks, 2 BB, 3 hits.

*** Game Thread #1 | Game Thread #2 ***

Unfortunately, Rays starter Charlie Morton was just as sharp. The 2018 All-Star carved through the A’s lineup, allowing just two hits and two walks through seven innings, plus a hit batsman.

Two of those five baserunners came in the 1st inning, and the other three in the 3rd inning, when Oakland loaded the bases with one out. However, both times Khris Davis and Stephen Piscotty were unable to bring any of them home. Davis had a particularly bad at-bat in the 3rd — facing a pitcher who had just walked consecutive batters, he didn’t see a single pitch in the zone but still impatiently swung at three of them to strike out. Morton went on to retire the final 14 batters he faced.

After Anderson’s departure, the A’s bullpen was unable to keep Tampa at bay. Yusmeiro Petit served up a two-run homer to Kevin Kiermaier in the 7th, and Joakim Soria gave up another to Ji-Man Choi in the 8th. The A’s rallied for a pair in the 9th, with Piscotty and Robbie Grossman each driving in a run, but it was too little too late.

The bright side here is that Anderson exceeded all expectations in his A’s debut. In Triple-A he’d posted a 6.26 ERA and 7.27 FIP, so it was fair to be nervous about what might happen against a good MLB lineup. But his 93 mph sinker darted around and he wasn’t afraid to challenge hitters inside with it, and his slider and change mostly induced weak contact plus a few whiffs. There were a few loud outs mixed in, but overall this was a nice performance by the rookie right as the A’s are searching for a reliable fifth starter.

I’ll also offer a defense of the A’s lineup in this game. Their four hardest-hit balls of the day ranged from 102.9 to 110.7 mph, with expected batting averages between .700 and .850, and all four of them were caught for outs. The fifth-hardest was a 102.4 mph lineout with a .490 xBA, and it was also caught. Oakland hit a bunch of balls hard in this game, but between BABIP luck and some excellent Rays defense they got nothing to show for it.

The A’s will try again tomorrow at 4 p.m., with Mike Fiers on the hill against Tampa Bay. In the meantime, enjoy a vintage Matt Chapman gem.