Inside Pitch: Long ball a deep problem for A’s in Toronto

In a trip to the great white north, the Oakland Athletics pitching staff was unable to keep the Toronto Blue Jays from flying out of the park.

A’s (10-9) pitching coughed six home runs to the Jays (10-10), accounting for 45 percent of their runs allowed, in losing two out of three games in the Rogers Centre. The overworked Oakland bullpen was also forced to cover another 8-1/3 innings, bringing the group’s total to 65-1/3 (T-2 AL).

There were some promising signs, however, as ace Sonny Gray (3-1, 2.73 ERA) picked up a win on a dominant Friday start. Scuffling slugger Khris Davis (.197/.258/.311 season slash) picked up three hits, including his second home run, and Chris Coghlan (.192/.250/.462) continued his torrid stretch.

Fastball (Team strength): Opposite-field power

When hitters are struggling, as much of the A’s offense has been, there are two definite signs of a pending recovery. One such sign is solid opposite field hits. In three games in Toronto, Oakland hitters collected a total of three homers to opposite side of straight away center.

Over the course of the series the offense hit a respectable .257 (aided by a 14-for-40 game-one outburst), raising its season average to .234. With 14 runs scored (4.7 per game), the A’s also saw their average run output climb slightly, to 3.5.

Change-up (Top individual performer): Sonny Gray

The rotation has averaged less than 5-2/3 innings pitched thus far in 2016. The little righty, though, has been the model of consistency, finishing the seventh inning in two starts, and getting through the sixth in all four.

In Friday’s victory Gray lasted seven frames, allowing three of nine base runners (six hits and three walks) to score, in picking up his third win of the season. Gray has figured into the decision in each of his first four starts, while also posting a quality start in each.

The ace came out of the gates hot, striking out five of the first six batters he faced, and received sufficient support in the form of a three-run homer by Coghlan — who hit two in the series running his total to four.

Curveball (Surprise of the series): Inherited runs

With a two-run single by Kevin Pillar (..266/.301/.342) in the eighth inning of Friday’s game, an Oakland pitcher allowed an inherited runner to score for the first time this season.

The runs were charged to the record of Ryan Dull (0-0, 2.53 ERA), who had given up his first base runner and run just two days prior in New York, though they were driven on a hit allowed by beleaguered reliever Sean Doolittle (1-2, 4.50 ERA).

Before the Pillar single, the A’s bullpen had stranded a major-league leading 28 consecutive inherited runners, showing their mass improvement from the group of 2015.

Sinker (Team weakness): Offensive double plays

Heading into the series, the A’s had grounded into just 10 double plays in 16 games, and after a game in which they avoided rally-killing grounders, they hit into four twin killings in Saturday and Sunday’s losses, combined.

Three of those double-play balls came on Saturday. Two coming in two-on, no-out situations. In the fourth it was Davis who dampened the rally, just one batter ahead of a Coco Crisp (.234/.333/.447) single. In the seventh, Marcus Semien (.186/.269/.390) was the culprit, and like Davis, it came just one batter ahead of base hit — this one by Josh Phegley (.368/.400/.421).

The A’s have had a tough enough time driving in runs when they can use all three outs, giving up two outs with one swing is only makes it that much harder for a team batting .221 (MLB No. 28) with runners on base.

Slider (Poor performing individual): Eric Surkamp

Once again unable to get through the fifth inning — for the third time in four starts — Surkamp (0-2, 5.59 ERA) not only lay the onus on his bullpen, but in his latest start also allowed the score to get out of hand early.

The team and organization can attempt to work through a 4-2/3 inning start if that hurler leaves having only given up two runs — as the lefty had done in each of his first three starts — but six runs is asking too much.

As it turns out the outing was poor enough, in the opinion of the front office, to demand replacement. On Monday, the franchise option Surkamp to Triple-A Nashville, recalling Andrew Triggs (2-1, 5.14 ERA in 2016).

The A’s now face the Tigers (8-9) for four games in Detroit before finally heading home for the current 10-day road trip.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.