The last time A.J. Griffin enjoyed any real success was in 2013, when he was a member of the Oakland Athletics. On Monday night, he offered hundreds of fans a brief flashback, leading the Texas Rangers to a 7-0 rain-delayed victory.
Texas (5-8) did all the little things — picking up clutch hits, working counts and playing stellar defense.
The A’s (5-8), on the other hand, did none of those things, drawing just two walks and committing yet another error, pushing their season total to an MLB-worst 16.
Oakland starter Jharel Cotton impressed the Rangers early, but things blew up in his face in the fifth. He finished getting one out in the sixth, but allowing five earned runs on five hits. It was the walks, though, that Cotton said made the difference:
“I tried to be too cute with the pitches, and it caused two walks and that’s what haunted me.”
After serving up three hits and a run to the first three hitters of the game, Cotton (L, 1-2, 5.40 ERA) settled in, not allowing another base runner until the fifth.
He was outdone, though, as Griffin (W, 2-0, 4.11 ERA) dazzled the Oakland bats all night.
The A’s had a chance to put pressure on the Texas starter out of the gates, but in a foreshadowing of how this night would go, the Rangers shushed the home team immediately.
Struggling to find the strike zone early, Griffin walked Rajai Davis to start the game. The 2016 American League stolen base king took off on 0-1, and he chose a good pitch on which to go — a curveball down. The speedy center fielder had the bag swiped, but as his momentum carried him off the base momentarily shortstop Elvis Andrus kept the tag on Davis’ foot for the out.
Oakland could muster just one more base runner — a one-out double in the third from Stephen Vogt — off Griffin, who finished tossing 6 scoreless. Five of his eight strikeouts came immediately following the Vogt double, from which point the former Athletic set down 14 straight.
Manager Bob Melvin said that the key to Griffin’s success was the loopy curveball he featured, and his ability to pitch off of it:
“He had a really good curveball tonight, and when it’s that slow it makes that fastball that much — it plays a lot harder than the velocity would suggest. You’re throwing 65-68 mile per hour curveballs and changeups, then all of a sudden a chest-high 87-mile per hour fastball. He had us in between tonight.”
Cotton was similarly dominant after an RBI double from Nomar Mazara in the first. But a stretch of 12 straight retired came to an abrupt end in the fifth, when the rookie right-hander walked Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Gallo to lead off the inning, despite jumping ahead of each 1-2.
He added another walk in the frame, issuing a free pass to Mazara, but only after a two-run double from Carlos Gomez. Mike Napoli promptly sent both men home on a bloop double to finish the night’s scoring.
Cotton said the stumble sprouted from his going away from the game plan. He said he would keep this in his pocket as a learning experience going forward:
“Now I know not to do that anymore. I’m just going to get ready for next game and keep that in my though process — when you’re attacking guys, continue to attack until you need to change things.”
Unlike his first two starts, the starter regularly gave up solid contact, something Griffin and the Texas bullpen was able to avoid, for the most part.
In their three at-bats with a runner in scoring position, the A’s were unable to get the ball out of the infield. They settled for two strikeouts in the second and an eight-inning ground-out, after Oakland’s second and third hits of the evening in their second and final chance.
Conversely, a two-run Mazara single in the eighth gave the Rangers their fourth hit in 12 at-bats in the same situations. Both runs were products of walks, in total Texas was able to knock in five of the seven free passes issued by A’s pitching.
“That’s something we preach: don’t give them free passes. But, here recently, not only have we done it, it has cost us. It is a concern. We’ve got to continue to try to pound the strike zone.
The A’s and Rangers continue the rivalry Tuesday when Andrew Triggs (2-0, 0.00 ERA) matches up with Yu Darvish (1-1, 2.33 ERA). In two starts this season, Triggs has allowed just eight hits and four walks in 11-2/3 innings (1.029 WHIP). Darvish has struggled in Oakland, posting a 1-3 record and 5.72 ERA in five starts at the Coliseum.
Both Marcus Semien (right wrist scaphoid fracture) and Kendall Graveman (right shoulder strain) were sent to the 10-day disabled list. The team is hopeful Graveman will miss just one start while Semien will be out through May. Semien and Graveman are their seventh and eighth uses this season. At this pace the Oakland Athletics will use the DL 64 times this season. The team set a franchise record with 27 DL uses in 2016. … On a throwing error by Rajai Davis in the fifth, the A’s streak of games with at least one error was pushed to 10. … Collecting an infield single in the first, Elvis Andrus moved in to a tie with Ruben Sierra for No. 5 on the Texas Rangers’ all-time hit list with 1,281. Michael Young is franchise’s leader with 2,230.