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Game #2: A’s score some runs but lose again to Astros

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Oakland starts 0-2 in 2021 season

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics
Just missed
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s bats showed signs of life in their second game of the 2021 season on Friday, but their pitching is still getting warmed up.

The A’s scored five runs and hit their first homer of the year, but that wasn’t enough in a 9-5 loss to the Houston Astros.

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

Oakland fell behind early in the game, but the lineup battled back all night to keep things within reach. Down 5-0 in the 4th inning they got an RBI triple from Ramon Laureano, and then Mitch Moreland made just enough contact for a sac fly to bring Laser home from third.

Later on, with the score 6-2 in the 7th inning, Chad Pinder entered as a pinch-hitter and clobbered a dinger to left. It was the A’s first long ball of the year, and it put them close again at 6-4.

In the 8th, Matt Olson led off with a double off an outfielder’s glove, and then came around on a pair of productive groundouts. Not glamorous, but it provided a valuable run at a high-leverage moment, and it was exactly the kind of mini-rally the A’s couldn’t put together enough of last summer.

However, even after the promising news of a solid scoring effort, there was still a downside. Laureano exited the game with a jammed left wrist due to the sliding play below, though fortunately there was no structural damage in his X-rays, reports insider Martin Gallegos.

That makes two A’s hitters dealing with wrist issues, as catcher Sean Murphy was scratched from the lineup after getting pegged in that area by a pitch on Thursday. He “could miss another day ... but doesn’t sound too major,” per Gallegos.

Pitching

Let’s be brief.

In his season debut, Jesús Luzardo struck out eight of the 24 batters he faced over five innings. But when the Astros did make contact they crushed it, including homers by Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel.

  • Luzardo: 5 ip, 5 runs, 8 Ks, 1 BB, 2 HR, 8 hits, 92 pitches

Despite just the one walk, the lefty did work a lot of deep counts, limiting how far into the game he could go.

He addressed his rough outing after the game, per Alex Coffey of The Athletic:

“Yeah, I mean, I throw sinkers. I’ve always thrown sinkers, so working on fastballs up, baseball is kind of moving in that direction, four-seamers up, spin rate, all that stuff ... I’ve never been big into that; I started working on it, felt like I found the top of the zone for the most part today. On the four-seams I obviously need to make some changes, but that is something I’m working on.”

On the bright side, eight strikeouts isn’t shabby for your bad day.

Out of the bullpen, Burch Smith was strong for two innings, only allowing a run because of a heads-up play by Jose Altuve to score on a ... sac infield fly? The former MVP caught shortstop Elvis Andrus by surprise.

Next up, Sergio Romo made it through his A’s debut, but Jake Diekman got beaten up in his first appearance. After allowing just one run in 21 games last year, he gave up a single, double, walk, and single to let two runs across, and another one came home later unearned.

The good news is, Oakland’s pitching is supposed to be better than this, and they still have 160 more games to prove it. And the Astros are one of the better lineups in the league, featuring Michael Brantley hitting three doubles to improve to 6-for-9 with 13 total bases this year.

Defense

Defense should be a strength for the A’s this year, but it fell short tonight, with some help from speedy Astros runners. Matt Chapman double-clutched a tough play he usually makes, Olson clanked a grounder he usually fields cleanly, Laureano bricked a sliding catch he could have made in center, and Andrus got caught being human when Altuve made a hustle play that nobody in the stadium expected.

It’ll usually be better than this, but tonight the early-season rust got the last laugh.

Tackle

One more notable play from this game. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa fielded a double-play grounder, but instead of throwing to second he tried to directly tag the runner Chapman. But instead of using his glove, he used his shoulder, into Chapman’s head.

Without even getting into any issue of intent, that would be an illegal tackle in the NFL, and at least a Flagrant 1 in the NBA though probably not quite a Flagrant 2 auto-ejection. In baseball, it’s just an out in the box score. In this era of making extra rules to protect players from unnecessary contact injuries, how is there nothing for this play?

Luckily, Chapman was OK, but there are better ways to make this tag. Correa was not in the process of fielding the ball anymore (which would change the conversation entirely), he had already fielded it, changed direction, and then charged at Chapman. He just ... lowered his shoulder, instead of reaching out his glove like you do in baseball.

160 more to go

Anxiety grows each day that goes by in a new season without that first win, but there’s nothing to panic about yet. The A’s got thrashed by a great opponent twice in a row, and sometimes that’s how things go at the start of the year before everyone has settled in. We know this A’s team is going to be good.

Go for that first win tomorrow! Cole Irvin makes his first start for Oakland.