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Spring Game #9: More good than bad for A’s in walk-off loss

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Chapman homers, and two injured hitters return to starting lineup

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s took a tough loss in the Cactus League on Tuesday, and if it was a regular season game we’d all be pretty bummed out about it. But since the final result doesn’t affect anything, we can instead focus on the positives that happened leading up to the disappointing conclusion.

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

The final score was 9-8 against the Chicago Cubs, so naturally our good news begins on the offensive side of the ball.

Before even considering who played well, the first note is who was playing at all. Two players were in the starting lineup for the first time this spring after injury delays, with veteran Jed Lowrie at second base and prospect Skye Bolt in right field. Lowrie went hitless in a performance whose success was measured strictly in innings and health, and Bolt drew a pair of walks in his two plate appearances and made a diving play on defense.

“It was exciting,” said Lowrie, via Athletics Farm. “I haven’t been that excited on a baseball field in a while. Just happy I didn’t pass out quite frankly. ... Swings felt good. I thought I saw the ball well. ... The body felt good. We’ll see how everything responds tomorrow.”

As for the scoring, that began in the 2nd inning with back-to-back doubles by Mitch Moreland and Chad Pinder, and continued two frames later with a homer from Matt Chapman, his second in the last three days.

They kept rolling in the 5th, with RBI doubles from Pete Kozma and Matt Olson. Kozma’s plated two, including this mad dash that gave us our daily Buddy Reed highlight. He scored from first on this hit.

The final runs came from the day’s second unit, but that didn’t make them any less exciting. That’s because they were produced by two of the biggest prospects in the A’s system — their last two 1st-round draft picks.

In the 6th, catcher Tyler Soderstrom put up his first pro highlight since being drafted out of high school last summer and becoming arguably the team’s top prospect (No. 2 on our CPL). How about an opposite-field double to the wall, by a 19-year-old who is yet to play in a regular season professional game?

To cap it off in the 7th, Oakland’s top 2019 pick delivered as well. Shortstop Logan Davidson, who ranks No. 6 on our CPL, knocked in two with a double of his own. The switch-hitter is now 3-for-6 this spring with a pair of extra-base hits, and manager Bob Melvin noted that the 23-year-old looks bigger and stronger this year, via Athletics Farm.

Oh, and one of the runners Davidson drove in was Vimael Machin, who came off the bench and collected yet another single. He’s now 6-for-14 with one strikeout, though still no walks or extra-base hits.

Unfortunately, eight runs didn’t prove to be quite enough on this day.

Bullpen struggles

The A’s pitching got off to a good start with Cole Irvin, who made his second strong appearance of the spring. The lefty worked three innings, allowing just a minor rally that resulted in a groundball RBI single, while striking out four. Two of his frames were perfect.

Melvin said the following about Irvin, via Athletics Farm (second link):

“He’s got a sinker. He’s got a good changeup. I think he’s still probably learning what his strengths are. For a guy that does have a four-pitch mix it looks like he relied on his strengths today. So he looked good.

“We’re gonna stretch him out as a starter right now. ... He pitched well enough for us to continue to do that. You need depth, whether it’s Dunshee ... him ... Kaprielian, these guys are gonna be our next wave. He’s here to make an impression and today he did.”

You can see a quick glimpse of Irvin in the clip below, getting help from Bolt on defense.

However, the bullpen wasn’t able to follow Irvin’s strong lead. Sergio Romo gave up a pair of runs, including a solo dinger by Joc Pederson. Burch Smith served up two more, on four hits including a pair of doubles. Adam Kolarek did manage a scoreless frame, though he pegged a batter and then had to pick him off first base.

Smith’s inning could have gone even worse, but for another Buddy Reed moment. On a hit to the gap in left-center, Reed collected the ball and threw it in to his cutoff man, shortstop Nick Allen, who then sent it home to nab a runner trying to score. That’s two members of MLB Pipeline’s All-Defense Prospect Team linking up on the play — can you imagine putting them on the field with the Matts, Laureano, and Murphy?

But the ultimate blow came in the final at-bat. Tasked with holding a three-run lead, Nik Turley loaded the bases on two hits and a walk, and then Rafael Ortega took him deep for a walk-off grand slam.

That’s the third straight rough outing for Turley, who has seen an opponent go yard each time he’s pitched and now allowed eight runs in less than three innings. He’s faced 15 batters and four of them homered.

“He’s not throwing strikes right now,” said Melvin, via Athletics Farm. “He’s throwing 97, he’s got a good hook. He’s just not throwing it where he wants to. When you get behind and you get guys on base and you get behind in the count, you got to throw one down the middle, sometimes that happens.”

Hot take: I’m still not giving up on Turley. Remember how we always say spring training doesn’t matter? This is what that looks like sometimes, and if they like the stuff then they’ll give him more than a week of spring to find his command. He’s still on my predicted Opening Day roster, on the precedent that the A’s almost never acquire an MLB reliever during the offseason just to cut him in the spring.

Really the only downside to this game was the bullpen, and that’s not something to worry too much about in exhibitions — especially a veteran like Romo making his spring debut.

Otherwise, Irvin was good, Kolarek rebounded from his own shaky debut a few days ago, and the lineup smashed. From the regulars like Chapman, Olson, Pinder, Moreland, and Mark Canha, to the youngsters like Bolt, Soderstrom, Davidson, Machin, and outfield prospect Cody Thomas, and even Kozma again for some reason, pretty much everybody had an encouraging day at the plate. And Reed, Allen, and Bolt all contributed on defense too.

Not bad for a walk-off loss in March.