Gallagher smashes Cotton, Royals dump A’s

Cam Gallagher is anything but a power hitter. In seven minor league seasons, Gallagher had hit 26 home runs — never more than five in a year.

So, it’s only fitting — given the way Jharel Cotton‘s season has gone — that the Kansas City rookie catcher delivered the deciding blow: a two-out, sixth-inning grand slam, lifting the Royals (60-58) over the Athletics (52-67), 6-2, Monday. The homer was Gallagher’s second big league hit, first extra-base hit, and knocked in the first four RBIs of his career.

Aside from the rough sixth, and crushing swing, it was the best Cotton (L, 5-10, 5.92 ERA) has looked since June.

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

Manager Bob Melvin said he saw positive signs, after a rough start:

“He got off to a little bit of a slow start, but then recovered pretty well. Then gets in a situation where’s he’s got the bases loaded … has to get one more out to get out of the inning and just couldn’t get it.”

Cotton said there were positives to take away, particularly his ability to coax weak contact, holding the Royals to a barrage of ground-ball and looping-liner singles:

“I was getting guys to hit ground balls — early contact — using my fastball more and getting quicker outs. … I feel like I got in a groove.”

Two of those sneak-by ground balls came right at the start, and for the fourth time in five games the Athletics surrendered a first-inning run, on singles from Whit Merrifield and Eric Hosmer — to score the run — wrapped around a stolen base and a ground-out.

Marcus Semien missed his fifth homer of this injury-altered campaign by less than a foot, banging a 2-2 slider off the top foot of the 15 foot-high wall in left-center. He did come all the way around with the rebuttal run, on a Ryon Healy ground-out.

Unable to record their own shut-down inning, the Royals denied Oakland’s attempt. After getting the first two batters in the second, Cotton allowed back-to-back two-out singles before giving Kansas City a free second run on a wild pitch. Cotton locked in after the wild pitch, retiring 10 of the next 12 he faced, cruising into the sixth, though he was forced to wait for his own offense’s arrival.

His opposition, Jake Junis, was in a similar groove. The difference: Junis (W, 5-2, 4.50 ERA) left the bullpen mound in that groove, holding the A’s to two base runners — a pair of Semien hits — through five. In the sixth, it blew up in both hurlers faces.

Melky Cabrera walked on four pitches. Two singles and a strikeout later, Cotton welcomed Gallagher — who entered the at-bat 1-for-8 in the majors — to the box, and immediately fell behind 3-0. After battling back to 3-2, on his fourth consecutive 90-mph fastball, Gallagher cleared the bags, driving a liner down the left field line and into the barbecue terrace.

Cotton said he wasn’t trying to be “too fine,” behind in the count, choosing instead to challenge a guy whose career suggested he was a limited threat:

“It’s frustrating because I couldn’t finish the inning. I wanted to get that guy out to give my team a chance, I just didn’t do that. He got a pitch to hit and he took advantage of it.”

Like Cotton, Junis put himself behind the eightball hitting hitting back-to-back batters, Healy and Khris Davis, with two on and one out, scoring Boog Powell. Unlike Cotton, he finished he disappearing act, getting Matt Olson and Chad Pinder to strand the bases loaded.

Melvin said that his offense’s inability to capitalize, as Kansas City’s had, robbed the air from the home dugout:

“(Deflating) is a good word for it. We had a couple situational at-bats where we didn’t need to get a hit, we just need to elevate some balls, get it to the outfield … those two runs probably make it a little bit different, just not a good game for us all around.”

Junis limited Oakland to four hits and two runs over 6, striking out two. He did not issue a walk, but did allow a two free passes on the hit batsmen.

Gallagher added a ninth-inning double, matching Alcides Escobar (2-for-4, two runs) and Semien (2-for-4, one run) for the game-high in hits.

Cotton allowed eight hits and six runs in his 6 innings, walking three and striking out two. Three of those hits — and four of the runs — came in the sixth, though, offering the rookie five solid innings upon which to build.

The skipper was noncommittal regarding whether or not Cotton would make his next scheduled start — Sunday at the Houston Astros:

“We’ll see where it goes. Obviously, we want to challenge him and see how he can do.”

Melvin added:

“He’s got a good assortment of pitches. … First thing, he needs to get a little better control of his fastball command.”

Said Cotton:

“I want to continue to pitch. I love pitching, I want to go out there every five days and pitch for my team. I’ll get out of this funk — by pitching.”

On deck

Chris Smith (0-2, 5.29 ERA) gets the nod Tuesday night, starting against the Royals for the first time — two relief appearances. Former-Athletic Jason Hammel (5-9, 4.68 ERA) is tasked with the starting assignment for Kansas City. He is 6-1 with a 2.26 ERA in 11 games (seven starts) at the Oakland Coliseum.

Notes

The A’s unveiled a new leveled Season Ticket Membership Program Monday. Season ticket holders will be able to purchase a higher level of membership, granting them perks and access in addition to that of basic season ticket plans. … In his second rehab start with Single-A Stockton, outfielder Jake Smolinski (right shoulder surgery) went 5-for-5 with five RBIs, falling a triple shy of the cycle, in the Ports’ 10-1 win Sunday night. … The A’s announced that reliever Bobby Wahl (right shoulder) underwent successful thoracic outlet surgery, to relieve the discomfort in his throwing shoulder.  He will return to Oakland Thursday to begin rehab process. He has not pitched since July 31, a relief appearance for Triple-A Nashville.


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.