The Oakland A’s enjoyed perhaps their best Opening Day ever on Friday, with a thrilling extra-inning victory over the Los Angeles Angels. However, after an emotional roller coaster that extended deep into the night, the two teams were right back at it Saturday afternoon for their next matchup, just 14 hours later.
The A’s magic didn’t show up again in the matinee sequel, as they collected just six hits en route to a quiet 4-1 loss to the Angels.
The play-by-play for this game was simple enough. The Halos took a lead off A’s starter Sean Manaea, with a run in the 4th and then three more in the 5th, and the A’s were only able to answer back with one in the 7th. Beyond that, rookie pitcher Jesus Luzardo made his 2020 season debut, and Robbie Grossman was the biggest bright spot in Oakland’s lineup.
Manaea great, until he wasn’t
All eyes were on Manaea to begin the game. In his exhibition start last week against the Giants, he’d failed to register a full 90 mph on the gun even once — the lefty has succeeded with low velocity in the past, but this was pushing it, and holding his own against the weak Practice Giants was only mildly encouraging.
Manaea looked much better on Saturday, at least for a while. He added an extra tick back to his fastball, reaching 90.1 or more five times and topping out at 90.7 in the 3rd inning, with an 89.0 average. He also pounded the zone, with 40 of his 55 pitches going for strikes.
The lefty breezed through the first three innings, needing just 27 pitches to put the whole Angels lineup down in order. He finally blinked in the 4th, as Justin Upton launched a solo homer for the first run of the game, but he was still cruising overall.
Then it all fell apart in the 5th. A sharp single, a loud out, and a popout set the scene, and the A’s nearly got out of the inning right there. Max Stassi smoked a ball toward Marcus Semien, and the 108 mph exit velocity was enough to eat up the usually smooth shortstop. If he makes that play then the inning could be over, but it’s also fair enough that he didn’t and it was properly ruled a hit not an error.
But that was still enough to extend the inning, and the next two Angels capitalized. Andrelton Simmons doubled into the LF corner, and David Fletcher one-hopped the wall in left for another double, and suddenly three runs were in and it was 4-0 Angels. Both extra-base hits were well-struck, not just lucky bloops or flares.
After looking so efficient for four innings, Manaea’s day was suddenly turned around and he found himself pulled mid-rally. Reliever J.B. Wendelken came in and got Mike Trout to end the frame.
Manaea: 4⅔ ip, 4 runs, 3 Ks, 0 BB, 5 hits, 1 HR, 55 pitches
Looking at the big picture, it wasn’t a good outing for Manaea, featuring several runs and a loss. But taken in chunks, it was four excellent and highly efficient innings, and then one disaster frame. It still counts the same in the standings, but it does offer some hope for his next starts, if he can just repeat the good part but avoid that meltdown. Also, no walks.
We got a taste of top prospect Jesus Luzardo last September, and again in the Wild Card Game in October, and his full arrival is one of the most exciting story lines of the summer for the A’s. However, it hit a brief delay when the 22-year-old tested positive for coronavirus and missed most of preseason training camp. He’s cleared and back now, but he hasn’t had a chance to stretch out for his expected starting role and so he’s pitching in relief for now.
After all that, Luzardo made his 2020 debut on Saturday, and he didn’t disappoint. The first batter he faced was Upton, and it only took three 98 mph fastballs to strike out the four-time All-Star who had already homered earlier in the day.
The lefty didn’t slow down from there. He finished a perfect 6th, and then navigated around a leadoff double in the 7th. He began the 8th by walking Fletcher, but then got Trout to bounce into a double play.
Luzardo: 3 ip, 0 runs, 2 Ks, 1 BB, 1 hit, 44 pitches
He averaged around 96-97 on his two fastballs, topping 98 several times, and that’s before getting to his filthy offspeed and breaking stuff.
And remember, this was just his first game. “Luzardo didn’t even feel he had his best stuff today. Said it felt better during his live BP session last week,” reports insider Martin Gallegos.
Luzardo’s outing was so impressive that he might already be good to go for the rotation. While the plan is still to do one more game in relief, manager Bob Melvin “doesn’t rule out Luzardo starting next time out,” reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. Of course, his workload may end up being the same either way, but the hopeful future ace on the mound in the 1st inning would be a welcome sight. For his part, he feels ready to start, relays Gallegos.
Grossman leads lineup
The A’s lineup faced Dylan Bundy, he of the 4.67 career ERA, and they made him look like an ace. They had opportunities, with some hanging pitches they weren’t able to capitalize on, but the end result was Bundy working into the 7th inning with seven strikeouts, no walks, and three hits.
They didn’t get completely shut out, though, thanks to Robbie Grossman. The left fielder reached base twice, on a HBP and a single, and he also drove in the team’s only run. In the 7th, Stephen Piscotty’s double finally knocked Bundy out of the game, and Kenyan Middleton came on in relief. Grossman greeted him by dropping a soft single to the opposite field, bringing home Piscotty and putting the A’s on the board for the first time. They later brought the tying run to the plate, but weren’t able to add any more.
Once on base, Grossman created even more value there. He stole second base twice, giving Oakland their first swipes of the season. Coincidentally, Grossman also stole the team’s first base of 2019, among his nine for the year.
There was one possible flaw in Grossman’s game on Saturday, on defense. When Fletcher doubled against Manaea for the final two runs, the LF may have had a play on the ball, which landed just short of the wall and only a few feet away from him. It appeared he may have pulled up to play it off the wall, except that it didn’t quite make it that far and he actually could have just caught it.
For what it’s worth, Melvin wasn’t interested in second-guessing that moment. The skipper noted how tough the Coliseum can be for outfielders during a sunny day and was “not convinced that Grossman played [it] too safe,” reports Slusser.
Grossman was a finalist for a Gold Glove last year, but this is one weakness I remember noticing in his game then too. For all the types of plays he’s good at making, he does seem to get lost when he’s chasing a ball back to the wall, and this isn’t the first time he’s missed something catchable at the track that led to key runs. But that’s just one complaint, he seems otherwise sound out there.
Grossman isn’t perfect, but he only needs to be a role player on this roster, not a star expected to carry the team. He showed on Saturday how he can do just that, chipping in some solid and timely contributions that could have helped push Oakland over the top if just a couple more hitters had shown up.
On that final note: Ramon Laureano did collect a pair of hits, so he’s 4-for-7 so far this year.
Allen’s first start
New catcher Austin Allen made his A’s debut in the late innings on Friday, and on Saturday he drew his first start. I won’t pretend I can analyze his catching performance, but at the plate he at least notched his first hit in green and gold with a flare to right-center in his first at-bat.
He had an opportunity to play hero in the 7th, coming up as the tying run soon after Grossman’s RBI hit, but he wasn’t able to come through in that spot. Still, at least he got the first knock out of the way.
The A’s and Angels are playing four games in this opening series, and so far they’ve split the first two. Oakland has looked great in one and shaky in the other, but overall it’s impossible not to leave these first two contests without a positive feeling about this team.
They’re back at it on Sunday, at 1:10 p.m. again. It’ll be Mike Fiers starting for the A’s, with Shohei Ohtani pitching for the Angels for the first time since his Tommy John surgery in 2018.
So far, the best predictor to losing a game is to lose a no-hitter to a home run in the 4th inning.— Melissa Lockard (@melissalockard) July 25, 2020