Oakland A's: 5 Pitching Performance Reviews from Series Versus Seattle Mariners
The Oakland A’s deserve some much-needed home cooking, particularly after the grueling recent three-game series against the Boston Red Sox. All three games were intense, as the A’s were strongly tested by the World Series champions.
Oakland escaped with a 10-inning victory on Sunday to take the last game in the series, avoiding a sweep by doing so. Each contest was a struggle for the Athletics. In fact, in all three facets of the game—pitching, hitting, fielding—the A’s were generally outplayed. On the edge of being swept out of Boston, on the heels of an inspiring three-game sweep of their own of the Texas Rangers, it was a great win for the Athletics.
But there is no time to rest and reflect for the A’s. Following their cross-country 10-game roadtrip, the team immediately flew back to Oakland to begin a 10-game homestand that has an interesting twist. Starting Monday, the Seattle Mariners pay another visit to the Oakland Coliseum for four games in three days: a doubleheader is scheduled for Wednesday to atone for the “washout” that occurred in early April.
After this series is over, the A’s will have played the M’s 10 times in their first 45 games this season. The Mariners are obviously a ballclub the Athletics are overly familiar with. Oakland, of course, came into the series with the league's top rated pitching staff. Were the A's able to continue their success against their frequently visiting division rivals?
Here is a review of five A’s pitching performances from the Seattle Mariners series.
Scott Kazmir Is Not Invincible
Nobody’s perfect. That lesson was learnt on Monday when the then-undefeated Scott Kazmir took his first loss of the season in Seattle’s 4-2 victory. It was bound to happen sooner or later.
It’s just that many hoped it would be later rather than sooner.
The A’s lefty has been off to a remarkable start this season, going 4-0 heading into Monday’s series opener against the M’s. But all good things eventually do come to an end, and Kazmir’s undefeated record took a hit when he allowed four runs on eight hits in six innings.
Kazmir didn’t pitch that poorly against Seattle; but he did himself in by allowing two first-inning runs. And that deficit proved too difficult for the A’s offense to overcome. Oakland ultimately lost the first game of the season in which Kazmir has started.
It was bound to happen some time. But the timing was just unfortunate. After April showered the A’s with easy wins, the Athletics have not been so flowery in May. Though Kazmir has been reliable all season, he could not keep the A’s rolling on the winning side.
The main issue in Monday’s game was Kazmir’s inability to retire the left-handed hitters in the Mariners lineup. Seattle’s lefties went 4-for-14 with a walk and two runs batted in facing Kazmir. For the season, lefties are hitting .325 against the A’s southpaw. (Meanwhile, right-handers are batting .190 against Kazmir.) Outfielder Michael Saunders went 2-for-4 versus Kazmir, and shortstop Brad Miller went 1-for-2 with a walk and two stolen bases.
The M’s did just enough to disrupt the flow for Kazmir, who struck out a season-low three batters. Despite issuing only two walks, his command was not where he wanted it to be, as he hit another batter and threw a wild pitch.
Give credit to Seattle hitters, who know they’ll be facing Kazmir four or five times this season. They did their homework and got enough going against him to scrap a few runs and put the Athletics in a hole early. Seattle’s lineup kept the ball in the air (13 flyballs—a season high), including a home run by Stefan Romero, only the second allowed by Kazmir this season.
It’s up to Kazmir to adjust next time he pitches against the Mariners.
Chavez Is Not Invincible Either!
Scott Kazmir’s outing was only a prelude of things to come for the Athletics.
Jesse Chavez is another A’s starter who seemed impenetrable this season. Before Tuesday’s start against the M’s, Chavez was only 2-0 in six starts—but the Athletics won all six games.
All of that is in the past, as the mighty Mariners marched into Oakland and took down Chavez on Tuesday after having beat the previously undefeated Kazmir the night before.
It was déjà vu for Oakland. Chavez’s numbers were practically the same as Kazmir’s Monday line. Chavez threw 5.2 innings, allowed seven hits, gave up four runs, walked two and struck out three. Like Kazmir, he also hit a batter and threw a wild pitch.
Like Kazmir, Chavez struggled against Seattle’s left-handed-heavy lineup. Prior to Tuesday’s start, lefties were hitting .227 against Chavez; but the Mariners’ left-handed hitters ripped him up, going 7-for-19 with two walks and a hit batsman. Like Kazmir, Chavez allowed multiple first-inning runs, three of them, to fall behind right out of the gate, forcing the A’s to play catch-up early.
This time around, Chavez did not have the good fortune of having an explosive Athletics’ offense. The right-hander owns the second-best run support—6.29 runs per game—in the American League (incidentally, Kazmir ranks third). But the Oakland O came up empty for the most part, and Chavez could not overcome the early deficit he put the team in.
As such, the A’s lost two nearly identical games—games started by two of their top pitchers. Chavez and Kazmir, each sporting undefeated records before Seattle came to town, showed that you can’t win them all. The A’s couldn’t win either of their starts during this series, surprisingly uncharted territory for the team.
Hopefully for A’s fans the carbon copy bad starts is not duplicated again.
Is Jim Johnson Back on Track?
Collecting two outs in Tuesday night’s game, Jim Johnson extended his streak to 11 straight innings without allowing an earned run. Unfortunately, he did allow four unearned runs, the result of his own throwing error in the ninth inning. The 4-3 game when he entered ended as an 8-3 loss for the Athletics.
Lately, success for Johnson has been all a bit relative.
But with the oscillating performance of the rest of the bullpen, Johnson has steadily pitched himself back into the closer role. In the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader, Johnson pitched a perfect ninth inning, earning his first save since April 6th.
Johnson’s abominable start to the season—two losses, one blown save, another blown two-run lead—forced Oakland to turn to the closer-by-committee approach. But the offseason acquisition has performed admirably since, lowering his ERA from a whopping 18.90 at the time of his demotion to a season-low 4.11 after saving Wednesday’s 2.0 A’s victory.
As Jane Lee of MLB.com reported, Johnson’s progress, coupled with the bullpen’s inconsistency over the past few weeks, could prompt A’s manager Bob Melvin to move Johnson back into the full-time closer’s role soon. Wednesday afternoon’s game was a step in that direction. (Although, the first game of the doubleheader did go 10 innings, and the Athletics did use five relievers, exhausting the bullpen a tad.)
With class, Johnson said all the right things at the time of his demotion, knowing that his performance up to that point had been substandard. Since then, he has done all the right things, pitching 12 straight innings without allowing an earned run, earning three wins along the way and, finally, notching his second career save with Oakland.
Dan Straily Is Quality
This week’s edition of the Daily Straily report has some good news. A’s righty Dan Straily collected his fourth quality start on the season in Wednesday’s Game 1, pitching six innings, allowing three runs on three hits while issuing four walks. High quality? Or low quality?
It doesn’t matter. Given his track record thus far this season, getting through six innings isn’t that big of an achievement for Straily.
As the team’s No. 4 starter, Straily has pitched according to expectations. He has thrown 38.1 innings in seven starts, allowed only 33 hits and 15 bases on balls (a modest but not unsightly 1.25 WHIP). What really does Straily in is his penchant for serving up gopher balls, which he has done nine times already this season—tops in the AL, by the way.
In Game 1 of the doubleheader, Straily gave up two long balls to the Mariners, a team that ranked 11th in the league offensively in home runs heading into Wednesday’s contests. Fortunately, they were solo shots, making it six one-run homers out of the nine total that Straily has allowed.
His numbers sort of belie his genuine productivity, though. It’s not that he is getting shelled each time he goes out there. He’s only given up more than three earned runs once this season. But he has allowed at least one home run in six of his seven starts.
On Wednesday, Straily hung in there against Seattle, with ace Felix Hernandez on the opposing side. Both ended up with a no-decision, as the Mariners came back for a 6-4 victory in 10 innings. But Straily kept the Athletics in the game and showed that he can at least provide a quality start.
Even if that quality is just OK.
Pinch Pitcher Drew Pomeranz
Is there such thing as a pinch pitcher? There are pinch runners and pinch hitters; but pinch pitchers?
There should be. And Drew Pomeranz is proving to be one of the better pinch pitchers in the game right about now.
Oakland’s relief corps has had its ups and downs of late. Jim Johnson, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Luke Gregerson have each struggled to find consistency on an outing-to-outing basis. The ‘pen has seven blown saves this season and is tied with the lowly Houston Astros for worst save percentage in the AL.
It must be noted, however, that after the Johnson was removed from permanent closing duties in April, each A’s reliever has become an amoeba in the bullpen, molding into different roles and duties day in and day out. The inconsistency of when each reliever will appear and the multitudinous responsibilities seem to have had some affect on the bullpen’s unsatisfactory performance during the first month-plus of the season.
Throughout all the shifting and re-shifting of job descriptions, Pomeranz has remained steady.
After nine appearances out of the bullpen, the 25-year-old lefty earned his first start of the season in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader. All he did was stifle Seattle’s lineup, throwing five shutout innings, allowing only two base hits while striking out five.
Not bad for a spot start, especially considering he wasn’t even announced as the starter until Wednesday morning. It was a much needed victory for Oakland, on the verge of being swept in their four-game home series against the M’s.
For the season, Pomeranz has a 2-1 record with a 1.45 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 10 appearances. Can he continue to be the life vest of the rocky A’s bullpen?
If the Athletics need another pinch pitcher, they certainly know who to turn to.
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