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A’s use opener, Waldichuk still earns loss

Austin Pruitt pitched a scoreless first but the rest of the staff allowed 6 runs to the Mariners.

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

With losses piling up as quickly as animosity towards John Fisher, the Oakland A’s decided to switch things up today to try to get some sort of something going.

Harkening back to the brighter days of 2018, the A’s revived the opener strategy with Austin Pruitt getting the “start” against the Seattle Mariners and Ken Waldichuk relieving him. Part of the strategy worked, the other didn’t.

The journeyman Pruitt wasn’t recalled too long ago so it’s interesting that he got first dibs on the opener role. However, Liam Hendriks — the A’s OG opener — had the spent 2 months in AAA before getting called up and immediately slotted into the experimental role. And we know how Hendriks became an Oakland legend and one of the best relievers in the game. Can Pruitt follow the same path? Who knows? Not me. Probably not, but one can hope.

Regardless, today was a solid start (pun intended). Though he allowed back-to-back singles to lead off the game, he settled down and got Eugenio Suarez to ground into a double play. He then induced a popup to left field from Jarred Kelenic that was an inch away from falling on the grass. Instead, JJ Bleday made a slick sliding play to nab the ball and end the inning.

So then the A’s opener strategy worked? Well, if you just focus on the “opener” part, then year, it did. Pruitt held the Mariner’s best hitters scoreless, which is an achievement in itself for the A’s. However, if you evaluate the strategy holistically, it’s meant to help your “headliner” perform better and go deeper into the ballgame since they get to skip the toughest part of the opposing team’s lineup once.

That didn’t happen for Ken Waldichuk. Instead, he had one of his worst outings of the season, allowing 5 runs and only getting through 2 23 innings. He was actually lucky to make it that far as his first inning of work was full of action. Three of his first four batters hit singles to load the bases with one out. Surprisingly, none scored as Waldy got Sam Haggerty to fly out to the infield before striking J.P. Crawford out to end the inning and narrowly escaping trouble.

His next inning was ironically one of the best of his season. Not only did he strike out the side, the hitters he struck out were the ones the A’s were helping him avoid by using an opener: Julio Rodriguez, Suarez, and Kelenic.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep the momentum going and completely unraveled in the 4th inning. Although he was able to strike out another couple of batters amongst the barrage of hits and runs, Waldichuk allowed a 2-out walk to Cal Raleigh to load the bases, giving Mark Kotsay no choice but to pull him. Newly acquired Lucas Erceg got Teoscar Hernandez to line out to end the inning.

On the offensive side, the A’s were unable to get much going either. Bryce Miller, whose major league debut came against the A’s Mason Miller earlier in the season, has done nothing but dominate since coming up. He’ll be one of Esteury Ruiz’s toughest competitors for the AL Rookie of the Year award. Tonight, he struck out 6 batters and allowed only 3 baserunners over 6 innings. And of course, he held the A’s scoreless, lowering his season ERA to a sick 1.15.

The A’s did end up avoiding getting shut out, scoring a run off an Aledmys Diaz double in after a couple of singles from Bleday and Jace Peterson in the top of the 7th. Speaking of Ruiz, he also stole his 26th base of the season. Oh yeah, and Sam Moll pitched a shutdown 8th with a couple of strikeouts. That’s where the silver linings end.

Another day, another game, another loss. The A’s will try, and probably fail, to avoid the 4-game sweep tomorrow. Though they’ll have a better chance at a win with the surprisingly effective JP Sears starting.