Inside pitch: A’s fall flat, drop 5 of 6

Just when you thought they had turned a new winning leaf, the Oakland Athletics stumbled their way to a 1-6 week.

Coming off their best week of the season, one that put them above the .500 mark for the first time in nearly a full year, the A’s (11-14) struggled to do anything they had just done so well. They scored just 15 runs (2.5 per game) while giving up 29 (4.8). They committed five errors — though three of them came in Friday’s 9-4 loss at the Houston Astros (16-9) — and left 42 of their own runners on base.

Perhaps the only thing the A’s can look forward to after such a week is health. Kendall Graveman made his return from the disabled list, and looked great in doing so. Daniel Mengden and Chris Bassitt each made significant strides on their path back to the mound.

Sonny Gray and Rajai Davis (.214/.262/.375 2016 slash) are each expected to make their returns to the field when Oakland does so Tuesday.

Fastball: Strong starters the story

In a week like the one he just endured the positives may seem few and far between but manager Bob Melvin was the recipient of three fantastic starting pitcher performances.

In his return from the 10-day DL, Graveman (2-2, 2.25 ERA) tossed 6 innings of two-run ball, and mixed in the first unassisted double play by an A’s pitcher since Blue Moon Odom accomplished the feat in 1971. It wasn’t enough for a win, however, as he fell 2-1 Thursday.

Jesse Hahn (1-2, 2.53) continued his reemergence, holding the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (14-13) scoreless for 8, before Oakland fell 2-1 in an 11-inning road trip opening loss Tuesday. He added another quality start to end the week, taking a loss for his 6 innings of three-run work in Sunday’s 7-2 loss at Houston.

Tallying his club’s only win of the week, Andrew Triggs (4-1, 1.84 ERA) reverted to his habit of spinning goose eggs. In a 2-1 win over the American League West leading Astros Saturday, Triggs threw seven zeroes on the board, allowing just five hits while striking out nine.

For the season, the A’s boast Major League Baseball’s 12th-lowest starter ERA (3.89 ERA). Of the seven AL rotations who’ve posted an ERA better, however, three are in the same division, with the Felix Hernandez-less Seattle Mariners nestling in six spots behind them at 18th (4.06).

Changeup: Lowrie punches up the listless offense

While the offense as a whole did little to support the solid starting pitching, Jed Lowrie (.292/.354/.438) continues to be a reliable bat, despite his leaving two runners in scoring position with two outs.

Lowrie posted a team-high eight hits (.320 average) and matched team highs in runs scored (4) and extra-base hits (3, including a home run).

Thus far in 2017, the second baseman has been the only consistently productive bat, posting 26 hits and a .292 average — each lead the team — along with 13 runs scored.

Curveball: Interfering with a former mate

Three times in three games against the Astros, A’s catchers were called for catcher’s interference while former-teammate Josh Reddick was in the box — twice on Stephen Vogt, giving him three errors on the season.

Perhaps this is nothing more than Reddick standing further back in the batter’s box than Vogt and Josh Phegley are used to. Perhaps it is, as former All-Star catcher Ray Fosse stated on the TV broadcast, strange swing mechanics of the lefty. Or, maybe, Reddick noticed in his time with the A’s that both catcher reach out more than other catchers, instead of waiting back on breaking balls.

Either way, it is something to keep an eye on when Oakland faces the Astros throughout the season. This type of strange free pass is the sort of thing that can turn an otherwise tightly contested game on its ear.

Slider: Too many whiffs

Not just sliders, A’s couldn’t hit well-located fastballs, curveballs, changeups, anything. Proof: they struck out 66 times in six games for an alarming 11 K’s per contest.

Only Phegley (.226/.226/.452), who took nine at-bats, lasted the week without at least one strikeout. The massive number of K’s played a big part in the team’s .240 average (7-for-29) with runners in scoring position, which in turn fueled its huge total of 42 left on.

A’s hitters also drew just 17 walks.

Through the first month of the season, Oakland hitters have struck out 221 times — third-most in the AL — and taken 77 walks — fourth-fewest in the AL. The nearly 3-to-one ratio is not good enough, guys like Trevor Plouffe (30 to eight) and Ryon Healy (26 to four) need to tip the balance and at least put the ball in play if the A’s are going to right the ship.

Sinker: Healy, Decker chasing K’s

Khris Davis struck out a team-high 10 times, but he also accounted for more than one-third of the offense — scoring or driving in six of the team’s 15 total runs — while earning a team-best six walks.

Ryon Healy (nine) and Jaff Decker (eight), on the other hand, brought all the negatives of 17 combined strikeouts while producing just one total run — an RBI from Healy — and three free passes — all by Decker.

Both younger players, Healy and Decker should be expected to suffer through tough weeks. The key to the growth of both players is rebounding.

For Healy, finding a power increase will overcome the struggle making contact. One extra-base hit and one RBI in six games may be the bigger problem than the nine strikeouts and zero walks. For Decker, a guy whose key talent (offensively, at least) is getting on base, the ratio must be improved, particularly given his having just two hits in 20 at-bats.

Pitch-out: The roadie continues

Oakland finishes its longest road trip of the season, playing the final three games in Minnesota before finally returning home Friday for a three-game weekend set with the Detroit Tigers (13-12).

The Twins (12-11) should offer the green and gold a much-needed reprieve from the strikeout. The Minnesota pitching staff has logged 153 strikeouts this season, the fewest in baseball, though their 69 walks issued are the fourth-fewest in the game. Getting back on track (and in play), the A’s should bring an aggressive approach to the Twins staff, who they know will be in the zone while not especially tough to touch.

After getting back into the contact column, Oakland can look for some free passes against the Tigers, who have struck out 199 (No. 17, MLB) but walked 100, the third-most in baseball.

The real story of the coming week for the A’s, though, will be what Gray can do with his first two starts of the season. A middle-of-the-pack Athletics starting staff would stand to be the recipient of a violent shove into the ranks of the elite should Gray return to in his Cy Young-finalist form of 2015.


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.