Inside pitch: Strong early, soft late story of A’s week

A microcosm of their week, the Oakland Athletics jumped out to an early 5-0 lead Saturday before choking it up late in a 10-6 loss.

The loss brought to end a 2-3 week that began with back-to-back wins. A comment made by manager Bob Melvin after the game can be applied to that week in its entirety:

“We played the first half the game really well, and probably as poorly as we can play the second half of the game.”

The A’s (5-7) couldn’t have asked for a better start, riding scoreless starts from youngsters Jharel Cotton and Andrew Triggs to consecutive impressive victories over the postseason hopeful Kansas City Royals (6-6). After a sour mid-week turn, however, Oakland welcomed a rare happening to end the week.

The green and gold were at no shortage of struggles. the bullpen allowed 12 earned runs (17 total) in 15 innings for a 7.20 ERA. Ryon Healy had twice as many strikeouts (8) as hits (4) in 19 at-bats.

But, they were also at no shortage of stalwart performances.

Khris Davis continued his sizzling start getting seven hits, including three home runs, in 22 at-bats (.318). Stephen Vogt posted a .313 average (5-for-16), and Sean Manaea held the Houston Astros (8-4) hitless through five Saturday, though a high walk total forced him from the fray in the sixth.

Fastball: Strong starts on the mound

Oakland starters combined to allow just five earned runs in 29 innings of work (1.55 ERA).

Despite being rewarded with just two wins, one trip through the rotation provided three quality starts, only stunted by early departures from Kendall Graveman and Manaea, who were tagged with one earny apiece. Unable to keep loose in the frigid Friday cold, Graveman (2-0, 2.00 ERA) departed the 7-2 loss after five frames. Manaea (0-1, 5.51 ERA) inflicted more suffering on himself than the Astros ever could, leaving Saturday after five having allowed five walks but no hits.

Triggs (2-0, 0.00 ERA) matched a formidable Monday start from Cotton (1-1, 3.97 ERA), twirling six innings of four-hit shutout ball in Kansas CIty.

Though he wore the loss, Jesse Hahn (0-1, 3.75 ERA) was nearly as impressive Thursday, holding the anxious Royal offense to six hits and three runs in his own 6-inning outing.

The staff was forced to work around 13 walks — nearly one per every two innings — by holding the opposition to just 17 hits. And they did so without the benefit of whiff stuff, K’ing just 22.

Through the season’s first two weeks, A’s starters have allowed an opponent batting average of .203 (No. 2, MLB) and a 1.16 WHIP (No. 6).

Changeup: Wrinkle-free Cotton

Cotton was picked apart by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (6-7) in his first start of the season, a 5-0 loss on April 5. However, none of the eight hits recorded against him on the night came off the bat at a velocity above 85 mph, according to statcast.

Kansas City was unable to find the same luck as those poorly hit flips found glove instead of grass.

In his second start, the rookie increased his strikeout output — from four to six — by nearly doubling his swings and misses — from seven to 13. He also increased his ground balls — from five to seven — and pop-ups — one to two.

The pitcher who led the minors a year ago in pop ups is around and well. The man with baseball second-best changeup, according to Fangraphs, never left, despite his tough first outing.

Curveball: O-Town rainout

After back-to-back tough losses the A’s needed a change. Anything would do. Oakland got something it hadn’t since April 4, 2014 — a rainout.

There were two rainouts in the opening homestand that season, the last to end with an A’s postseason appearance.

The postponed game will be made up as part of a traditional doubleheader on Sept. 9.

Sinker: Team D

The A’s committed at least one error in each of their five games of the week — eight in total. Finding correlation where there may be none, the defense made just one error in the week’s two wins and two in each of its losses.

After committing seven in the campaign’s first week, Oakland has credited with a major league-leading 15 errors. The defense’s .966 fielding percentage is also baseball’s worst.

The poor defense combined with the pitching staff’s low strikeout total — MLB’s ninth-fewest 91 so far — spells trouble for the A’s.

Slider: Plouffe goofs loom large

Third baseman Trevor Plouffe was responsible for three of his team’s eight E’s.

His defensive shortcoming overshadowed an offensive awakening, as he has recorded hits in four straight games, including home runs in each of the last two. A strong week in the box has pushed his slash from .174/.208/.174 to .205/.273/.359. But his rough go in the field has yielded a .903 fielding percentage.

Two of Plouffe’s errors came in Friday’s 7-2 loss. And they were the deciding factor, as five of the Houston runs that night were scored as a direct response of those errors.

Pitchout: Staying put

After the rare rainout, the A’s will stay in Oakland for the entire coming week.

To finish the early season 10-game homestand, the green and gold will welcome in the Texas Rangers (4-8) for three, then the Seattle Mariners (5-8) for a four-gamer.

In their first meeting with the Rangers, the A’s claimed a 2-1 series victory at Arlington. They have yet to face Seattle this season.


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