Inside Pitch: A’s salvage one in Cincy

Enduring a 1-7 road trip is never ideal, but if a team is to win just one, the finale would be best.

The Oakland Athletics (26-36) brought an end to their horrendous three-city, eight-game roadie by claiming a decisive 6-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds (24-39) on Sunday. They head home with a win in their back pocket, looking to create momentum off their first high point in more than a week.

The difference between Friday and Saturday’s losses and Sunday’s win was the presence of offense, as the pitching — starters and relievers — were dominant in both losing efforts. Rookie Daniel Mengden (0-1, 3.18 ERA) was among the top performers, allowing two runs in 5-2/3 innings of work.

Fastball: Pitching counteracts a live yard

Facing a team that currently represents Major League Baseball’s scoring average — No. 16 with 271 runs scored — Oakland pitching kept the Reds from pulling away as the offense struggled. A key contributing factor was the ability to keep the “Big Red Machine” inside the walls of the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park — allowing just one home run to a team that averages 1.3 per game.

It isn’t the starters that deserve the entirety of the recognition. The trio of Sonny Gray (3-6, 5.34 ERA), Mengden and Kendall Graveman (2-6, 5.28 ERA) combined for just 17-1/3 innings, despite allowing just five runs.

The bullpen took on another heavy workload, adding 7-2/3 scoreless to their combined record. The A’s relief corps has now tossed 13 consecutive scoreless frames, spanning the team’s past five contests.

Changeup: Yonder Alonso

Alonso (.250/.315/.328) picked up five hits in the three-games set. Going 5-for-9, the first baseman has now collected at least one hit in seven of his last eight games with multiple hits coming in all but one of those performances. He is batting .481 over that period.

During his current hot stretch he has raised his batting average 41 points from a dismal .209. He also drew a walk and continued to play his normal stellar defense during the Cincy stop.

Curveball: Defense much improved from a year ago

With three games of errorless defense in the “The Queen City,” the defense has now pushed its perfect streak to five games.

After committing an MLB-most 126 errors, and playing to an MLB-worst .979 fielding percentage a season ago, the A’s are on pace to commit just over 100 error in 2016. With 40 currently on the record, the Oakland defense is tied for the sixth-worst in the league.

They are, however, tied for third with 1.06 double plays turned per game. That number was boosted by the four turned in Cincinnati.

Sinker: Beating a dead horse — as long as no one is on base when the horse gets beaten

Hitting with runners in scoring position continues to be the bane of the Oakland offense’s existence. After going 3-for-22 (.136) against the Reds the team’s season average fell to .246 (No. 20). In the absolute clutchest of situations — with runners in scoring position and two outs — it gets even worse, as the average drops to .224 (No. 18 MLB).

There inability to hit with runners on cost the team and the pitching, as a pair of fantastic starts were wasted. The final score of both losses was 2-1 while the bats went a combined 2-for-11 in run-scoring situations over the two games.

Slider: Graveman

The 25-year-old right-hander appears unable to create any momentum for himself. After lasting 6 innings on May 30, Graveman has been unable to get through the fifth in back-to-back outings. He has now gotten through the sixth in just one of his last seven starts.

In making it just one batter into the fifth, the Alabama native appeared to wear down in the Cincinnati Sunday afternoon heat.

With improved health pending for the starting staff Graveman may find himself pitching in Nashville in the near future unless he is able to get his issues ironed out.

Pitch out: Taking down Texas

It is a short turnaround for the green and gold, who will play in Oakland just 24 hours after finishing a game in Ohio. While the positives are difficult to find coming off a one-win road trip, they carried some enthusiasm into the long flight.

Clinging to the lone win, and the confidence that comes from sweeping the Texas Rangers (39-24) in the teams’ last meeting, Alonso and his A’s are in position to trigger a winning streak at home where the team went 5-1 in its most recent stand.

As mid-June rolls in, a winning streak is a necessity to maintain postseason aspirations. With a continued downswing, the time to sell will quickly approach for the franchise.


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.