Frankie Montas was missing his target by feet, nearly hitting batters with fastballs targeted at the outside corner.
Location has been the Achilles heel for Montas, a one-time elite prospect. In 177 career minor- and major-league games, the fireballer had averaged 3.7 walks per nine innings entering Thursday’s pivotal showdown between the Athletics and the playoff-contending Mariners.
Montas reined in his command considerably after a laborious first inning, but by then it was too late as the A’s (80-55) could never overcome a five-run opening frame, falling to Seattle (75-59), 7-1.
Playing in its 14th of 20 games in as many days, manager Bob Melvin said he could see the rigors of this tough stretch of schedule beginning to wear on his club:
“I saw a little bit of (fatigue) in BP today. It happens from time to time. The last series took a lot out of us, that’s no excuse, but I saw a little bit today.”
One man who wasn’t battling the toll of two restless weeks was Montas (L, 5-4, 3.96 ERA), who brought his usual electric velocity hitting 97 on the gun with his first pitch. But as the adage goes, big league hitters can time a bullet if it isn’t well-located, and Mitch Haniger sent a liner to right two pitches later when a 98-mph heater leaked out over the middle of the plate proving its truth.
After giving up three hits and two walks, Montas appeared to have navigated the inning having allowed just two runs — aided by his own nifty leaping snag of a chopper up the middle — when he coaxed an innocent, two-out grounder from Mike Zunino.
The weak roller was directed at Matt Chapman, whose 3.1 defensive wins above replacement (DWAR) is tops in all of baseball. But the sure-handed third sacker’s throw bounced about eight feet short of first, evading Matt Olson bringing home a pair.
Following a Dee Gordon RBI single, Montas finally closed out the Seattle rally getting a groundout from the leadoff man Haniger, the tenth Mariner to bat in the inning. The beleaguered hurler used 38 pitches, allowing five runs — three unearned resulting from the Chapman error — before putting the first inning to bed.
Melvin said that his starter appeared to be over-hyped for his big league return:
“It looked like (he was) maybe a little too amped up early; velo was really good but he wasn’t locating it.”
Things appeared to be unfolding in much the same fashion when the Mariners led off the second with a triple and a single putting up a sixth tally.
But Montas snuffed that rally, in fact allowing just two hits from there. One was a solo homer (23) by Haniger, otherwise Montas retired 14 of the last 16 he faced. In doing so he did something no other A’s starter had done since Brett Anderson on Aug. 21, in getting through six complete.
Montas said, after the first, his goal was to last as long as he could and give his club a chance to come back, saying lasting six innings was huge for him and his team. Through team translator Juan Dorado, he added:
“I was a little bit rushed, I was going a little bit too fast in the first inning. Later on in the game I started to calm down a little bit, started executing my pitches, started doing the things that I am normally accustomed to doing.”
In total, Montas allowed eight hits and seven runs (four earned) in his six innings, striking out four and walking two.
A five-run first-inning deficit was plenty for Wade LeBlanc.(W, 8-3, 3.71 ERA) who scattered six base runners — three hits and three walks — never more than two in an inning in seven scoreless. He struck out four.
In a game that saw the A’s put forward little positivity, young outfielder Ramón Laureano left yet another impression. The rookie was the only Oakland hitter to pick up an extra-base hit, rocketing a double off the very top of the 15 foot-high wall in right-center in the third inning.
One inning earlier, the 24-year-old sacrificed health and wellness challenging the wall head on in a desperate attempt to rob Denard Span of a leadoff triple. Alas, he came up short but impressed with his effort and added a walk leading off the fifth to finish 1-for-2 at the plate.
Melvin said it is impressive to watch the energy and raw tools of his rookie center fielder:
“He’s taking advantage of his opportunity at the big leagues. He gets moving so fast some times he can’t stay on his feet … he’s so max-effort. … It could be 15 to nothing, he’s going to be running into a wall trying to make a play.”
While this defeat comes at the hands of one of the three teams Oakland is currently jostling for playoff positioning, the A’s got good news from the out-of-town scoreboard which showed that the AL West-leading Astros as well as the Yankees, who hold the AL’s top Wild Card spot, each lost Wednesday night.
Mike Fiers (10-6, 3.15 ERA), the lone bright spot out of the rotation from the A’s recent 4-3 road trip, takes the mound Friday looking to get Oakland back in the win column following back-to-back losses. He will face Mike Leake (8-8, 4.03 ERA), who has allowed just four runs in three starts against the A’s (1.74 ERA) this season.
To make room for Frankie Montas, and right-handed reliever J.B. Wendelken, the A’s optioned reliever Ryan Dull and Nick Martini to Triple-A Nashville. Wendelken pitched three scoreless innings in relief Thursday and has now allowed five hits, four walks and one run 8-2/3 big league innings this season. … With Martini replaced on the active roster by a pitcher, the A’s have extended their pitching staff to 14 leaving two position players on the bench. Manager Bob Melvin said that outfielder Dustin Fowler could be recalled before rosters expand Saturday, meaning the A’s are considering bringing him to Oakland Friday. … Brett Anderson, placed on the 10-day disabled list Tuesday with what was originally diagnosed as a forearm strain, has what Melvin called an irritated ulnar nerve. Anderson will meet with team doctors to form a “game plan” moving forward. … Sean Manaea, placed on the 10-day DL Sunday with rotator cuff tendinitis, said Thursday that he is holding out hope of returning to the rotation at some point this season. Melvin called the chances of that happening “less than 50/50.” Prior to the injury, Manaea had been the only member of the A’s Opening Day rotation to not kiss time due to injury. He leads the team in innings (160-2/3), strikeouts (108) and wins (12). … Andrew Triggs (right triceps strain) will begin a rehab assignment in the near future, said Melvin who could offer no certain dates. Triggs (3-1, 5.23 ERA) has not pitched since May 17. … Mariners second baseman Jean Segura, listed in the original lineup, was a late scratch. He was removed from Seattle’s Wednesday game with a left shin contusion.