A’s stumble into second half as Pirates sweep

The Oakland Athletics finished the first half of their home schedule being swept at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates, falling 6-3 Sunday afternoon.

For the fourth straight game, Oakland pitching was handed an early lead — only to choke it up. Rookie starter Daniel Mengden was tough on the Pirates (41-41) early, striking out three of the first five batters he faced. His dominance slowly unraveled, and he finished with four runs charged to his record over 5-1/3 for the worst start of his young career.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

The A’s (35-47) couldn’t turn constant traffic into runs, scoring three times despite earning 12 base runners, making Francisco Liriano (W, 5-8, 5.34 ERA) a winner for the first time since May 24.

Of the sweep, coming on the heels of a 6-2 stretch against their two California rival clubs, manager Bob Melvin said:

“We felt like, with the Angels series and then the Giants series, that we were on our way to playing a lot better, then we get derailed again in this series.”

Given a 2-0 lead in the second frame — on RBIs from Billy Butler and newly re-called catcher Matt McBride — Mengden (L, 1-4, 3.48 ERA) did what Sonny Gray (3-7, 5.42 ERA) and Rich Hill (8-3, 2.31 ERA) were unable to do previously in the series: put a zero on the board for a shut-down inning. He did surrender the lead, though, allowing a pair to score in the fifth.

The 23-year-old Mengden said that he thought his stuff was good throughout the outing:

 “(I) Just wasn’t executing as well. (In the) early innings, I was getting the pitches where I wanted to, getting ahead, and towards the end of the game I started falling behind. “

Like Saturday, a ground-rule double kept a run from scoring in the bottom half of the fifth. Unlike Saturday, a “mouse hole” wasn’t involved, as a fly ball off the bat of All-Star hopeful Marcus Semien bounced high off the warning track and over the wall. It did, however, cost them just the same.

With one down in the inning, Coco Crisp lobbed a bloop single down the right field line driving home McBride, who had doubled, to give the A’s a 3-2 lead. On the very next pitch, Semien ticketed what looked to be an RBI double 40 feet to the left of the right field foul pole — not far from where Josh Reddick’s fly ball lodged into the wall one day earlier. As the ball took a high hop off the warning track, it sailed over the barbecue terrace and into the seats.

Fly ball outs from Reddick and Danny Valencia left the runners, and the score, where they were.

Said Valencia:

“We didn’t get the job done. I didn’t get the job done. Plain and simple.”

With their next at-bat, the Pirates posted two runs behind an RBI triple from Adam Frazier and a run-scoring infield single from Erik Kratz.

The rally also got a boost from defensive specialist Tyler Ladendorf’s inability to make the turn on a double play — Josh Harrison, who was safe on Ladendorf’s wide throw to first, scored on Frazier’s three-bagger.

Oakland’s every rally attempt was snuffed out by a Pirate bullpen that has now gone 32-2/3 innings since it last allowed a run, leaving runners on in three of the final four frames. The A’s finished with two hits in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

Melvin said the struggles ran even deeper:

“More than anything, it was the situational at-bats … We had some opportunities with a runner on third and less than two outs, and we couldn’t get them in.”

Pittsburgh put the icing on their sweep-celebrating cake with a two-run home run from David Freese (8) in the eighth.

It will be a quick turnaround for the A’s, who will fly to Minnesota tonight for a July 4 day game against the Twins. Kendall Graveman (3-6, 4.84 ERA) is expected to start against the Twins’ Ricky Nolasco (3-6, 5.31 ERA).

Notes

Josh Phegley was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right knee strain. Phegley and Melvin were unable to pinpoint when and how the catcher suffered the injury in Thursday’s 7-3 loss. … Reliever Fernando Rodriguez (2-0, 4.20 ERA) departed with a shoulder strain after recording the first out in the eighth inning. Melvin said that the severity of the injury was not yet known, but said there is a “potential” trip to the DL looming for the right-hander.


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.