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Exhibition Game Recap #1: A’s fall quietly to Giants in first game of 2020, but at least it was baseball

Giants win 6-2 in preseason opener

San Francisco Giants v Oakland Athletics
Austin Slater had 5 RBI for the Giants
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For the first time in nearly 10 months, the Oakland A’s played a competitive baseball game against another team at the Coliseum. It was only a preseason exhibition, but it was still live baseball happening right there on your TV.

Unfortunately, the A’s made about as much noise as their cardboard fans in the stands, falling 6-2 to the local rival San Francisco Giants. But at least it was baseball — even a loss is better than no sport at all.

After waiting four months through the coronavirus pandemic shutdown, the A’s and Giants are playing two warmup games before Opening Day of the regular season later this week. This was the first of those scrimmages, and they’ll go again on Tuesday evening.

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

Monday’s action started with Sean Manaea on the mound for Oakland, right where he’d been the last time the A’s played in the 2019 Wild Card Game. He worked his way up to 65 pitches in this tuneup start, but not a single one reached 90 mph. He hit 89.1 once, and 89.0 twice, all in the 1st inning, and he didn’t go above 86.9 in the 4th or 5th innings.

And yet, Manaea made it work, albeit against a relatively weak lineup. There were a few loud outs early on, but the three-run rally he allowed in the 2nd inning consisted of a hit-by-pitch, two infield singles, and then a hard-hit double — not exactly a sequence to worry about. There was only one somewhat well-hit ball after the 2nd inning, and he retired the final 10 batters he faced.

Manaea struck out four, inducing five swinging strikes along the way, and most importantly he didn’t walk anyone, though he did hit the one batter. He made heavy use of his slider and was extremely happy with the pitch, he told insider Martin Gallegos.

Manaea: 5 ip, 3 runs, 4 Ks, 0 BB, 4 hits, 1 HBP, 0 HR, 65 pitches

Of course, when the real games start it would be nice to see some more heat out of Manaea, who is usually able to reach the low-90s — he got outs in this game, but 89 mph might not always cut it. Indeed, he thinks the extra couple ticks will return to his fastball as time goes on, telling Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle:

“I feel good, that’s all that really matters. I’m not really worried about velocity right now, I think it will come back.” He said he was “extremely happy” with his stuff, esp: his slider, and no walks.

The radar gun also might have been a touch slow early on, manager Bob Melvin tells Slusser.

The bullpen worked the final four innings, and three of them went well. Yusmeiro Petit, J.B. Wendelken, and Liam Hendriks all tossed perfect frames with two strikeouts apiece.

But in the 7th, Jake Diekman ran into trouble. He got the first two outs, but then a walk and a pair of doubles brought home two runs. Brand-new addition Jordan Weems came in to stop the damage with a runner on second, and he induced some weak contact from Wilmer Flores, but it fell for a bloop single to push across another run. Weems retired his next batter to end the frame, averaging 96 mph on his fastball and 10-out-of-10 on the hair scale.

By far the star for the Giants was left fielder Austin Slater. On a night in which his team scored six runs on seven hits, Slater went 3-for-4 with 5 RBI. It was his bases-loaded double off Manaea that cashed in on the early rally, and his drive off Diekman that knocked in two more. Both doubles were smashed, well over 100 mph in exit velocity.

That was more production than the entire A’s lineup managed as a group. They tallied only four hits and three walks, and they were mostly scattered harmlessly throughout the evening.

Stephen Piscotty was responsible for half of those hits, and his first one was the highlight of the game for Oakland. In the 2nd inning, he launched a 92 mph fastball from lefty Tyler Anderson in a high arcing fly over the left field wall. Unfortunately, whereas Slater’s double for the Giants had come with the bases packed, there was nobody on for Piscotty’s solo shot, but it was still a sight for sore eyes.

Oakland struck again in the 4th. Matt Chapman walked and Matt Olson singled, moving Chapman to third base thanks to some slick baserunning. Khris Davis then drove in Chappy with a sac fly.

At the time, that cut the Giants’ early lead to 3-2, but the A’s weren’t able to score again as they watched San Francisco pull away once more against Diekman. Their hardest-hit ball of the night was by Sean Murphy in the 5th, but it was right at a defender for a 5-4-3 double play.

It was a long wait for baseball to return, and it will be a slightly longer wait to see an A’s victory. But it was still amazing just to watch the green and gold on the field, offering a refreshing slice of normal life amid the chaos and tension of 2020. Just as the loss doesn’t count in the standings, it really had no bearing on how enjoyable this game was.

The A’s and Giants have one more exhibition matchup Tuesday night (6:45 p.m., on NBCS Bay Area), giving us another chance to simply bask in the warm glow of baseball before we get down to serious business. Opening Day is Friday against the Angels, and then the games count, each one more than ever before in a short 60-game campaign.