Getting them in was the problem, as they dropped a one-run game for the first time in four chances, losing 4-3 on Saturday night.
In his 5-1/3 innings Iwakuma allowed nine hits, but in limiting the damage to three runs was rewarded with the win. Kendall Graveman worked the other way, surrendering just seven hits but bunching all four Seattle runs in the fourth and fifth innings, taking his second loss to the Mariners (61-54) this season.
The A’s (52-65) got their first crack at the new-look Seattle bullpen, and were shutdown. Including a perfect ninth, and save (6), from rookie closer Edwin Diaz (0-2, 1.69 ERA) the group allowed just two base runners.
Catcher Stephen Vogt said that the veteran starter, who came in with a 3.83 ERA in 13 career games against Oakland, changed little from his normal approach.
“(He) changes speeds, and doesn’t miss in the middle of the zone. …He does a good job keeping us off balance, and doesn’t really challenge you in the zone.”
The two-time All-Star did add, however, that the hurler used his splitter much less than usual, which made it a weapon in big situations.
The A’s were able to get a man on base in each of the first four frames, but could scrape together just one run in that time, stranding five. Iwakuma (W, 14-7, 3.84 ERA), known for the several hesitations in his wind-up delivery, was able to dance in and out of trouble over and over.
Getting him out of the game did not prove to be the antidote, though, as the Mariner bullpen lowered what had been a 0.38 ERA in its past seven games to 0.33 in eight after tossing 3-2/3 scoreless. The group has allowed just one run in its past 27-1/3 innings. Oakland finished leaving seven runners on base.
After a scorching July, Graveman (L, 8-8, 4.37 ERA) has yet to get things rolling in the right direction in August. In his first three starts of the season’s penultimate month, the 25 year-old is now 1-1 with a 5.82 ERA — having allowed 11 runs in 17 innings.
Manager Bob Melvin said that his starter’s control, and inability to keep his lethal sinker down, has been the problem:
“He got some balls up. … Maybe not as sharp as we’ve seen him, during the stretch when he was really good. But (he) battled.”
The biggest problem for the Alabama native was on display Saturday. After serving up 10 home runs in the first two months of the season, Graveman was taken deep just four times combined between June and July. With two homers allowed in the loss, to Robinson Cano (26) and Nelson Cruz (29), the acting ace has now given up four already in August.
Graveman said that the two homers were the turning points in the game:
“I though they did a good job hitting a couple good pitches. … For the most part, I thought I threw the ball well, maybe not commanding it early — as well as I wanted to, but that’s the way it goes.”
“I’m surprised they put such good swings on them, it was almost like they were sitting on it.”
Along with the duo of dingers, former-Athletic Seth Smith collected a go-ahead RBI single in the fifth.
The Oakland offense was paced by Billy Butler, who went 3-for-6 with two doubles and two runs scored, and Coco Crisp, who continued his torrid season as a run producer. Singling in his lone such at-bats, Crisp pushed his major league leading batting average with runners in scoring position to .458 (27-for-59) — he has driven in 34 runs in those situations.
Using a tool normally reserved for his teammates Butler put his best speed on display, scoring from second on a Jake Smolinski in the sixth to give the contest its final score.
On Star Wars fireworks night, Khris Davis gave the sellout crowd of 35,067 a glimpse at what appeared to be the Millennium Falcon taking flight with a gargantuan blast to left-center earlier in the sixth. With it “Khrush” pushed his career high in homers, which he set on Friday, to 29.
The skipper said he had some expectation Davis would go deep a second time in the game:
“I think he has a chance to get 30. I though he was going to get it the next time up, to tell you the truth.”
The A’s can claim a series win and .500 home stand with a win in Sunday’s matinée. They will hand the ball to Zach Neal (2-1,4.60 ERA), who will be making the third start of his career and second of the stand. The M’s will counter with lefty Wade LeBlanc (1-0, 4.71 ERA)