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Spring Game #4: A’s blow early lead, fall late to Royals

An encouraging day from a couple arms, and not much else

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

The fourth game of Spring Training is in the books. Oakland looked in charge early after staking out a 3-0 lead by the 4th inning, but managed just one base hit the rest of the way while Kansas City warmed up in the Arizona sun to the tune of 5 runs in the final three innings for a final of 5-3. Oakland is now 1-2-1 during Spring Training with 14 to go before Opening Day.

Even though results don’t matter, the box score today isn’t especially nice to look at. The A’s offense could only muster one extra-base hit all game, an Austin Allen homerun, while the pitching outside of Frankie Montas and A.J. Puk left a lot to be desired.

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It was a pitcher’s duel early on, as A’s ace Frankie Montas and Royals left-hander Angel Zerpa traded zero’s for the first two innings. Montas, who was making his Spring debut, looked like he was close to ready for the season to start, hovering around 94-96 on the radar gun and touching 97 once or twice. He looked especially sharp in the first, throwing 7 of his 11 pitches for strikes and inducing a 5-4-3 double play.

Montas was only at 27 pitches through two, so manager Mark Kotsay marched him back out there to get more work under his belt. Montas began the inning with his only strikeout of the day followed by a Whit Merrifield single. Royals stud prospect Bobby Witt Jr. then laced a ball hard into left field, but a nice play by Skye Bolt saved a hit, and at 41 pitches Montas’ day was done. He was replaced by Justin Grimm, who made the final out of the inning.

As effective as Montas was, the exact opposite was happening to the A’s offense. Newcomer Christian Pache got hearts pumping with a long drive to the center field warning track for the first out of the game, something he would do again in the 4th inning. First baseman Dalton Kelly was the A’s first baserunner today, walking on four pitches in the 3rd, but was almost immediately wiped out on a Zack Gelof double play, part of Gelof’s 0-2 day that included a strikeout.

The entirety of Oakland’s scoring today came in the top of the fourth inning, sparked by a Kevin Smith single to left. After a Ramon Laureano fielder’s choice put Smith at second, Christian Bethancourt lined another single to left field, bringing in Smith for the first run of the game. The next batter, Austin Allen, then smacked an absolute moonshot to right field to bring in Bethancourt.

The enigmatic A.J. Puk was tapped to start the fourth inning for the A’s, and it wasn’t an auspicious start. A four-pitch walk to leadoff man Andrew Benintendi could have been chalked up to a tight strikezone by the umpire, but walking the leadoff man is just asking for trouble, something Puk just can’t afford during this Spring Training. Luckily the next batter, Carlos Santana, lined a ball that just missed a ducking Puk’s head by inches into the outstretched glove of second baseman Sheldon Neuse, who fired to first to double off Benintendi.

Puk coincidentally seemed to calm down after that ball almost hit his head. He would induce a groundball to end the inning, then went back out there for the fifth only to strikeout the first two batters and getting another ground ball. Puk looked as close as we’ve seen him to an above-average pitcher today, mixing his pitches and showcasing a crisp delivery with nice velocity. With news that James Kaprielian will miss the first month of the season, Puk is almost assured a spot in the starting rotation if he simply makes a couple more outings like this while pumping up his workload. It’s make-or-break time for the soon-to-be 27 year old lefty.

Kotsay pulled most of the regulars in the bottom half of the 6th, along with switching Puk, who had thrown only 13 pitches, for reliever Austin Pruitt, who would surrender a two-run homerun to Witt Jr. to cut the lead to 3-2. Lefty Sam Selman was next in line, giving up the tying run on two hits and a sac fly in the 7th, followed by right-hander Miguel Romero yielding two runs off three hits in the 8th.

Shortstop Nick Allen, who came on to play second base midway through the game, managed to give Oakland a chance to tie it up in the ninth with a two-out walk, but a Shea Langeliers pop out ended any chance of a comeback. At least it was quick.

Some notes:

  • Max Muncy, a high-school shortstop no where close to the bigs, was brought into the game alongside Nick Allen and slotted at shortstop over Allen, who is on the precipice of the Majors. Perhaps with the shortened Spring Training the A’s staff wanted to get a look at Muncy playing shortstop. They only got to see one play, a routine groundball Muncy handled perfectly. Muncy also struck out in his first and only AB this spring.
  • Speaking of Nick Allen, the A’s future shortstop walked twice and was one of only two A’s batters to reach base twice today (Bethancourt).
  • Old friend returned again Sheldon Neuse looked comfortable at second base all day, taking part in two double plays and showing off some range at the keystone.
  • The offence actually got more walks (5) than hits (4) today.

These games don’t count, but it’d be nice to see more from the offense. There’s not a lot of worry with the pitching, but with all of the question marks surrounding the team after the trades, it’d be nice to see someone on the offensive side of the ball start to break out. Thank the baseball gods we still have 14 more to play before April 8th.

Same time, new venue as the A’s travel to face the Cubs tomorrow afternoon where new Oakland Athletic Adam Oller makes his A’s debut. See you all then!