A’s rookies sparkle, then stumble, in 4-3 loss

The Oakland Athletics could not have asked for more from Paul Blackburn making his major league debut.

The 23-year-old Brentwoon native worked 6 very strong innings, holding the Atlanta Braves to three hits and a single unearned run. Like Sonny Gray one day prior, however, Blackburn (ND, 0-0, 0.00 ERA) was victimized by a dominant outing by his opposition.

R.A. Dickey dazzled the A’s (35-46) all day with his dancing knuckleball, and the Braves (39-41) sealed it late, overcoming a Khris Davis game-tying homer, to secure a 4-3 win.

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

Blackburn, a 2012 first-round selection of the Chicago Cubs, entered the 2017 season as the A’s No. 22 overall prospect, according to MLB.com. Through the first 80 games of the season, his 3.05 ERA led among Triple-A Nashville Sounds pitchers who had made five or more starts.

That ERA was bolstered by the Heritage High School graduate’s recent run of success. Over his last five starts, Blackburn had allowed five earned runs in 26 innings (1.73 ERA) leading to his call-up.

The right-hander forced his own initial battle with big league adversity, walking two of the first four batters he faced. But, in striking out Nick Markakis — for his first big league whiff — and coaxing a weak ground-out from the slugging Matt Adams, Blackburn survived his first frame unscathed.

In the second, his former Triple-A teammate, Franklin Barreto, backed him into another early corner, picking up a routine grounder from Tyler Flowers but winging it over Yonder Alonso at first for a two-base error leading off the inning. Danny Santana made the blunder hurt, lining a double into the left-center field gap driving in the run, but Blackburn bowed his back from there.

Blackburn held the Braves to a pair of singles, in the fourth and fifth, from there, retiring 13 of the next 15 batters he faced. He finished his impressive afternoon walking one and striking out four, leaving the game in a 1-1 tie, with the benefit of a fourth-inning RBI single from Ryon Healy.

Healy was the only A’s hitter to scare up production facing the knuckler. The third baseman accounted for two of the six hits allowed by Dickey (ND, 6-5, 4.44 ERA) in his 6 frames.

Relievers Sean Doolittle  and Ryan Madson each surrendered single runs in the seventh and eight, but the Oakland offense answered once again.

Following a leadoff walk drawn by Jed Lowrie, Khris unloaded on a first-pitch fastball from Arodys Vizcaino launching a game-tying two-run homer (22) high off the back wall in center field.

With all the momentum teetering in the home dugout, Barreto continued to show his growing pains in the field, committing his second error of the game with one down in the ninth. Dansby Swanson made the error loom large, yanking a fastball from Santiago Casilla (L, 1-3, 3.99 ERA) into the left field corner for his second RBI of the game and the clincher.

On deck

Melvin and the A’s send Sean Manaea (7-4, 3.87 ERA) to the hill in search of a single triumph over the Braves. Atlanta will counter with Julio Teheran (6-6, 5.30 ERA), who is looking to escape the worst season of his young career. He has a win, allowing three runs over 6 innings, in his lone career outing against Oakland in 2014, one of his two All-Star campaign’s.

Notes

Rookie third baseman Matt Chapman (left knee) will get a rehab start at designated hitter with the Double-A Stockton Ports Saturday. Manager Bob Melvin said Chapman likely be back at third on Sunday, and could return to Oakland to begin Monday’s series with the Chicago White Sox.


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.