Cruz, Mariners power past A’s, struggling Cotton

Oakland and Seattle engaged in a mid-July home run derby under a gloomy, overcast East Bay sky Wednesday afternoon.

Launching three bombs to the Athletics‘ two, the Mariners (59-56) created real separation by keeping the home squad from connecting with runners on, and punching two of their own such homers, as they slipped away for a 6-3 slapping.

The A’s (50-64) couldn’t contain former farmhand Nelson Cruz, who took starter Jharel Cotton deep twice as Seattle completed a two-game sweep to stay in playoff position — currently holding down the second Wild Card spot.

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

Cotton (L, 5-9, 5.72 ERA) gave up all three homers, including a two-run shot to Cruz and a three-run bomb to Kyle Seager, those, manager Bob Melvin said, dug his team into too deep a hole:

“The homers kinda did him in. … When you give up home runs with guys on base, it ends up costing us.”

Including his effort Wednesday, Cotton has allowed 19 runs (18 earned) in 19-2/3 innings (8.24 ERA) going 0-2 over his past four starts. He has also served up 18 homers in 91-1/3 innings.

Cotton was saddled with eight hits and six runs while walking one and striking out four. But in battling though 6 frames, the scuffling youngster took some of the toll from the Oakland bullpen, which needed seven arms to get through 4-2/3 frames Tuesday night.

He said his focus was on doing just that: getting his bullpen some much-needed rest. Melvin agreed but added that he needed a better effort to keep the club within reach:

“We needed at least six innings out of our starter today. At the end, he seemed like he got a little better, you’ve just got to keep them down earlier — minimize the damage some.”

Of his overall effort, Cotton said:

“It wasn’t selection, just execution. … Three non-executed pitches that costed me today, costed the team a victory.”

Catcher Bruce Maxwell added:

“If you don’t execute with guys like Cruz and Cano and Seager, they’re going to make you pay for it. That’s what they get paid to do and they’ve been doing it for a long time.”

For the third time this season — seventh in his career — Matt Joyce opened the game with a homer (15). This time, though, it came in response to a much more damaging swing by Seager, who slugged a three-run homer (17) in the top of the first.

The A’s did the same in the third — answering a crooked-number homer with a solo shot, this one the 31st of the year off the bat of Khris Davis. And that was the tale of Oakland’s afternoon: the A’s answered each of Seattle’s run-scoring innings but were never able to mount a big inning, settling for single tallies each time.

Mariner starter Yovani Gallardo (ND, 5-7, 5.38 ERA) was responsible for minimizing the damage in the early goings. But removed with one down in the fifth, the veteran forced his bullpen to lug the majority of the load. Emilio Pagan (W, 1-2, 2.51 ERA) came to the rescue of his club, offering 2-2/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn his first big league win.

Both hurlers got help, both from the heavy cold air keeping a trio of Oakland drives in the field of play and from the defense. The most notable effort was offered up by left fielder Ben Gamel, whose leaping, wall-crashing effort on a fifth-inning Marcus Semien blast may not have prevented a two-run homer but definitely robbed the A’s shortstop of an RBI and extra bases.

Cruz, who ranks behind only Khris (73) having now hit 69 homers over the past two seasons, mashed 886 feet worth of homers, according to Dinger Tracker, sending a 450-foot rocket into the left field seats in the third and adding a 436-foot missile to center in the fifth. He finished the afternoon 2-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored to pace the Seattle offense.

Said Maxwell:

“He’s probably one of the most dominating hitters I’ve ever had to catch against. One swing of the bat and he changes the whole outcome of a ballgame, like you saw today. He’s tough, probably one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen. … It’s like you can’t miss because he’s always, always on mistakes.”

Joyce was the only Athletic to collect multiple hits, adding a single and run scored in the fifth to finish 2-for-4.

On deck

Journeyman Chris Smith (0-1, 4.82 ERA) picks up the hunt for his first major league win since 2008, Thursday night. His fifth starting assignment of the season comes against Wade Miley (5-9, 5.51 ERA) and the Wild Card contending Baltimore Orioles (56-57).

Notes

Bobby Wahl (right shoulder) will see a specialist this week, according to manager Bob Melvin. The rookie reliever has not pitched in the big leagues since May 23 — after missing all of June, he made five minor league appearances in late-July. … One day after having a game finish with his last remaining bullpen arm on the mound, Melvin told reporters that the A’s plans include utility man Chad Pinder serving as the emergency pitcher. … As part of the newly introduced Player’s Weekend, all MLB players will wear alternate jerseys with nicknames on the back on Aug. 25-27. … The A’s hired Wade Martin, who spent the past year as Vice President of Global Partnerships and Naming Rights for WME IMG, as VP of Corporate Partnerships and Hospitality. Martin will oversee partnership sales, marketing and retention, and corporate hospitality sales, according to a team press release.


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.