The Oakland A’s had plenty of chances to score in their two-game series against the Colorado Rockies this week, but they couldn’t find the big hit at any point on either day.
The A’s went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position on Wednesday, raising their total to 0-for-14 for the series, and the result was a second straight day of insufficient scoring. Oakland lost 5-1 to the Rockies, completing a two-game sweep at the hands of Colorado.
The A’s took an early lead in the 1st inning on a solo homer by Matt Chapman, but whenever they put runners on base the bats went quiet. They should have had another tally in the 4th, as a bonus thanks to a mental mistake by Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, but the umpires blew an easy replay review call to bail out Arenado and rob Oakland of an extra run and the chance for a further rally. Still, the game was primarily lost in the many at-bats when the A’s simply struck out or otherwise came up short with runners on.
Despite allowing five runs, the pitching was still a bright spot in a couple ways. Frankie Montas became the first A’s pitcher this season to work five full innings, showing progress within the rotation as the starters ramp up toward their normal workloads. Jesus Luzardo relieved him and held his own for most of the final four innings — he did get into some trouble in the 8th and 9th, but two of his runs were not the result of his pitching but rather a rookie defensive miscue he made on a play that should have ended the 9th unscathed.
To be fair, the A’s did get a couple breaks in their favor, with two lucky caroms on defense in the 2nd to limit what could have been a devastating early rally. But it wasn’t enough to make up for the fact that the Rockies simply played a better game, just as they did on Tuesday.
After being understandably shaky in his first start of a weird 2020 season, Frankie Montas took a step forward on Wednesday. He was much more efficient than last week, throwing slightly fewer pitches but finishing an entire extra inning, and he became the first Oakland pitcher to complete five frames in a game this year.
Montas: 5 ip, 2 runs, 3 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR, 5 hits, 77 pitches (59 strikes)
The right-hander was his normal powerful self but registered a tick lower than last time out, averaging 95 mph on his heater and topping out at 97. On the other hand, his control was vastly better, after throwing barely half his pitches for strikes on Opening Day. It wouldn’t be a surprise if we learned those two facts are related and intentional.
It’s not clear exactly when Montas will start next, with the rotation getting a tweak soon to work in Luzardo, but presumably it will come against the Rangers during their Tue-Thu series at the Coliseum. That said, for what it’s worth he’d be on regular rest to go Monday in Seattle.
Luzardo strong on mound, weak on defense
We finally found something Jesus Luzardo isn’t good at yet: Fielding his position.
The rookie lefty made his second appearance of the season, once again out of the bullpen, and while he didn’t dominate he was still strong. That was especially true early on, when he retired six of the first seven batters he faced in the 6th and 7th.
He finally ran into trouble in the 8th. A leadoff single was followed by an RBI double from Charlie Blackmon, who finished the series 4-for-9 with a walk. Then the 9th served as a turning point in his outing.
The final frame began with a runner reaching third base and two outs on the board. An intentional walk brought up Blackmon again, and this time he knocked it right back up the middle. The ball hit Luzardo and he recovered the rebound in time to make a play at first, but instead of throwing it hard he softly lobbed the ball to Matt Olson and Blackmon was able to beat it out. Not only did the runner score from third, but the man on first raced all the way around too.
You be the ump again. Out or safe?— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) July 29, 2020
Safe call stands after review. pic.twitter.com/fiwpF59v2G
The play was ruled an error on Luzardo, and the extra runs virtually sealed the game for Colorado. The A’s didn’t score again anyway, so it probably didn’t matter, but it was frustrating to see the rookie make the big pitch and get the batted ball he needed for the third out, but then not convert the easy part.
It wasn’t his first defensive error of the day, either. In the 6th, with a runner on first base, the infield got a chance for a 3-6-1 double play. Olson nimbly fielded the ball to his right and made a perfect throw to second base, where shortstop Marcus Semien received it and relayed it to first. Luzardo got to the bag in time to cover, and Semien’s throw hit him in the mitt, but the pitcher wasn’t able to squeeze it and it fell to the dirt as the batter safely crossed first.
Normally you don’t see errors charged on double plays as long as one out is recorded. For example, if there’s a routine GIDP grounder to the shortstop, and he clanks it but regroups and gets the force out at second, he won’t get an error because you don’t assume the second out. In this case, though, with the first out already recorded and the throw getting there in time to retire the batter, the situation changes and you can assume the second out, so Luzardo’s brick was ruled an error. Not everyone agrees with this particular use of that bylaw, though:
In my 15 years as an official scorer, I have only given an error on a play like that once and it was to a first baseman who was set and dropped the catch with the ball clearly beating the batter/runner by several feet. I wouldn't have given Luzardo either of those 2 errors today.— Paul (@ThatsAnError) July 29, 2020
None of this is to say we have anything to worry about long-term. Luzardo is a 22-year-old pitcher who skipped college and has barely gotten to play in the pros due to injury. We can have some patience as he refines his secondary skills like defense — after all, he’s a perfectly fine athlete and there are no questions about his work ethic, so there’s no reason to doubt he can learn and improve in this area. But it led to some runs on Wednesday, and for the time being let’s keep an eye on it and see if it was a fluke or something he needs to urgently work on.
Luzardo: 3⅔ ip, 3 runs (1 ER), 5 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR, 4 hits, 67 pitches (43 strikes)
If you doubled that line in an outing as a starter (minus the unearned runs), we’d be calling it a gem. Yusmeiro Petit came in for the final out after Luzardo’s error on Blackmon.
However, the key number above is not related to performance but rather his pitch count, as he ramped up from the 44 he threw last time. During the post-game press conference, manager Bob Melvin was crystal clear about the plan for him moving forward. Will he start his next time out?
“Yes, that’s why we pushed him to the number that we did,” said Melvin, referencing the pitch count.
The skipper didn’t rule out the upcoming Seattle series for such an occasion, which could put Luzardo on track for Monday on normal rest. Or, they could wait until the Rangers series beginning the following day. But the start is coming, sometime in the next turn through the rotation.
On that note, to get you extra hyped for the southpaw, here’s one final number that isn’t listed above. Luzardo induced 16 swinging strikes out of his 67 pitches, for a 23.9% rate. For context, the MLB leader in at least 50 innings last year was Josh Hader at 22.9%, and nobody else broke the 20% mark. Homeboy misses bats.
On the other side of the ball, the A’s once again found themselves on the wrong side of a controversial replay review call. With two outs in the 4th, Nolan Arenado fielded a routine ground ball, but he seemed to forget how many outs there were. Instead of throwing to first for the easy one to end the inning, he set himself up to make a throw home, which he completed in time to beat the runner Olson. The call on the field was out.
However, upon closer inspection, the catcher, perhaps surprised to be receiving a throw at all, was late with the tag and Olson’s foot had sneaked in safely. It went to replay review, where it should have been an obvious overturn. This was as cut-and-dried as these things really get.
Inexplicably, the umps upheld the call. I genuinely can’t fathom what they saw to come to that conclusion. Judge for yourself.
You be the ump. Out or safe?— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) July 29, 2020
Out call was held up after review. pic.twitter.com/ENvwTRSABx
We’ll talk more about this in another post soon, but for now the ever-diplomatic Melvin showed about as much public exasperation as he ever does on a topic he can’t control:
“Over the years we feel like we’ve had a tough time with the close calls on replay. It didn’t decide the game, but it can be frustrating.”
Translated to English, that’s Melvin for “the umps screwed up.” That said, his second sentence is important too — all of this is not a complaint that the A’s should have won the game over this call, just a general principle that it’s a problem that keeps happening and should really be fixable.
Even despite some bad luck on replay, the A’s did get their share of fortunate hops on Wednesday.
Montas got into hot water in the 2nd inning, with the bases loaded and one out, and then allowed a deep drive to right field. Stephen Piscotty leaped and nearly caught it, but it went just above his reach and off the wall. However, rather than caroming back toward the diamond and letting the runners race around the bases while Piscotty recovered, it hit the wall and then immediately glanced off his shoulder, deadening the ball’s momentum and dropping it nicely at his feet. He got it in so quickly that only one run scored on the play, whereas it easily could have cleared the bases otherwise.
Two batters later, with two outs now on the board and the bases still loaded, Montas induced a low liner toward Olson. But the ball kicked off Olson’s glove and sharply rolled away ... directly toward second baseman Vimael Machin, who convenietly scooped it up and fed it back to Olson for the out. If the ball goes in any other direction then one or two runs score in the confusion, but instead Montas got away with the game still in hand.
By all rights, this should have been as much as a 5-0 game by the end of that 2nd inning. It’s just too bad the gifts from the universe weren’t enough to lead to a win.
Through all the ups and downs of this game, those four letters were the defining aspect for the A’s and were the reason they lost. They had runners in scoring position in each of the 4th, 5th, 7th, and 8th, plus other innings with a runner on first, but they couldn’t capitalize a single time. The only run came with the bases empty, on Chapman’s solo homer.
It was a full team effort, with several players getting opportunities but unable to be the hero. The closest thing to a bright spot was Robbie Grossman, who collected two hits and is now 6-for-15 (.400), but even he struck out on a half-swing in the 8th to strand the bases loaded.
Vimael Machin got his first start at 2B, and his second start overall, but went 0-for-4 and is still still searching for his first MLB hit in seven tries. Seth Brown also got his first at-bat of the year, pinch-hitting to pop out and end the game.
The A’s lineup is great and they’ll wake up eventually. This too shall pass. But will it pass in time to avoid a long losing streak in the coming days?
Rocky start, but smooth sailing ahead?
After a promising opening series against the Angels over the weekend, this was a sobering return to earth against Colorado. The pitching got knocked around a bit, the defense didn’t live up to its normal standards, and most importantly the bats were completely silent. They’ll need to fix at least one or two of those things quickly to avoid an extended slump to open the season, as this year’s 60-game sprint is not the time to dig an early hole.
A trip to Seattle could help, where the Mariners are rebuilding rather than competing. Oakland gets Thursday off to travel up north, and there they’ll play four road games against the Mariners, who might be the weakest opponent on their 2020 schedule — check out our full season preview on them for more details. Friday’s opening matchup will pit Sean Manaea against right-hander Taijuan Walker.