Rangers Jump On A’s Early, Complete Sweep

BY PAUL GACKLE

OAKLAND — The boo birds showed up early on Thursday as the Oakland A’s epic slide continued at the O.co Coliseum.

The Coliseum crowd voiced its displeasure with the home team after the Texas Rangers scored four two-out runs in the first inning en route to a 7-2 victory.

“You get down in the first inning, it gets tough to find your fight,” A’s Manager Bob Melvin said.

The loss dropped the A’s into second place in the American League wild card race, a half-game behind the Kansas City Royals and 1 1/2 games ahead of the Seattle Mariners. As a result, the A’s find themselves without at least a share of first place in the AL West or AL wild card standings for the first time since April 5 when they were 2-3.

Starting pitcher Sonny Gray (13-9) ran into trouble right out of the gates. With two outs and a runner on first in the top of the first, he surrendered four straight singles, putting the A’s in a 4-0 hole, fueling a chorus of boos from the home crowd.

Gray gave up four earned runs off eight hits over five innings of work.

“Other than the first, he threw the ball really well,” Melvin said.

Sam Fuld gave the A’s life in the third when he tripled to right, scoring Derek Norris and Coco Crisp, cutting the lead in half.

“It sparked the dugout,” Melvin said. “We felt like we were back in the game.”

But the Rangers closed the door by adding a run in the fifth and two more in the sixth, handing the A’s their sixth loss in eight games.

With the loss, the A’s are now 11-25 since August 10, the worst record in Major League Baseball over that span.

“We’ll find ourselves in no position soon,” Melvin said, referring to the playoff race. “We need to worry about tomorrow’s game right now.”

NOTE: The A’s inked a four-year affiliation deal with the Nashville Sounds of the Pacific Coast League on Thursday. The club is moving its Triple-A affiliate to Nashville because its former parter, the Sacramento River Cats, recently signed a contract with the San Francisco Giants.

Hernandez Tops Lester In Pitcher’s Duel At Coliseum

Hernandez Lester

BY PAUL GACKLE

OAKLAND — Jon Lester was good. Felix Hernandez was better.

Hernandez continued his dominance of the Oakland A’s on Wednesday as the Seattle Mariners squeaked out a 2-1 win in a pitcher’s duel at the O.co Coliseum.

“It came as advertised,” A’s Manager Bob Melvin said, referring to the matchup between two of the American League’s best pitchers. “Usually with two guys like that it comes down to one swing and, literally, in this case, it was one more than we got.”

The A’s acquired Lester in a deadline trade with the Boston Red Sox to pitch in big games against the league’s top hurlers. He performed the role to near perfection for six innings before Kyle Seager and Corey Hart smacked back-to-back home runs in the top of the seventh.

Lester (13-10) took the mound with a 1-0 lead in the seventh thanks to Adam Dunn’s towering home run to right in the bottom of the fourth, the 462nd big fly of his career, tying him with Jose Canseco for 34th place on baseball’s all-time list.

But after retiring seven of eight batters, Lester surrendered a leadoff home run to Seager in the seventh on a 3-1 pitch.

“They’re down one [run] and he’s looking to do one thing and he did it,” Lester said.

Hart homered to left two pitches later, putting the Mariners ahead 2-1.

Did Lester’s frustration in the wake of Seager’s home run cause him to give up a second long ball?

“I don’t think things like that affect [Lester],” Melvin said. “I think he’s been around long enough to know that it goes pitch to pitch for him — he can’t let the previous pitch affect him.”

Hernandez (14-5), who improved his career record against the A’s to 19-7 with a 2.58 ERA, retired the A’s in order in the seventh and the eighth before Fernando Rodney picked up his 41st save in the ninth.

“If I give up [just] two solo homers — I like my chances in just about any game,” Lester said. “Unfortunately, Felix was on the other side and did one better.”

The Mariners ace surrendered a single run on only three hits over eight innings of work. He’s 6-0 with a 1.98 ERA in his last nine starts at the O.co Coliseum.

With the win, the Mariners now trail the A’s by only 3 1/2 games in the AL wild card race.

NOTE: The A’s recalled left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz and first baseman Nate Freiman from Class A Beloit on Wednesday.

A’s Rotation Struggles As Team’s Slide Continues

BY PAUL GACKLE

OAKLAND — The Jon Lester trade drew immediate skepticism and criticism of the Jeff Samardzija deal is sure to gain momentum in the wake of the A’s 8-5 loss to the New York Mets at the O.co Coliseum on Wednesday.

Samardzija surrendered seven earned runs to the Mets over 3 2/3 innings as the A’s dropped their sixth game in seven outings.

Despite the trades for Lester and Samardzija, the A’s trailed the Los Angeles Angels by a full game as their AL West rivals took the field in Boston on Wednesday night.

“It was a big game today and I didn’t do my part, so it stings,” Samardzija said.

The A’s struggles at the plate minus Cespedes have been well documented, but now the team’s starting pitching is struggling, too. The rotation is 2-7 with a 5.54 ERA over its last nine starts.

The rotation’s woes are concerning because the A’s gave up Cespedes and top prospect, Addison Russell, in hopes of boasting the most potent staff in baseball.

But Jason Hammel, acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the Russell deal, is 1-5 with a 6.75 ERA in seven starts with the A’s while Samardzija is 3-3 with a 4.34 ERA in nine starts with the club.

Samardzija pitched well in his first month with the team, becoming the first A’s pitcher since Jesse Flores in 1943 to toss seven or more innings in each of his first four starts with the club. In recent weeks, though, he’s struggled, surrendering 18 earned runs over his last five starts.

Despite his recent struggles, Manager Bob Melvin said the A’s are confident in Samardzija’s ability.

“He’s pitched some really good games for us,” Melvin said. “Today was really the one tough game that he’s had overall as far as his numbers go, so it’s kind of a short sample what he’s done for us. But he’s a killer. He wants to be out there, he wants the ball and we’re confident when he takes the mound.

After retiring the first six batters, Samardzija gave up five earned runs in the third — a solo home run to Eric Campbell and then four two out runs, including a three-run shot to Lucas Duda.

The trouble started when Curtis Granderson poked a two out single to left field with the shift on and Daniel Murphy reached base with a single of his own. After David Wright walked, Granderson scored on a wild pitch from Samardzija and Duda supplied the fireworks with a three-run shot to center.

The A’s battled back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning, but the Mets tagged Samardzija for two more runs in the top of the fourth, regaining a five-run lead.

With the Angels coming to town for a three-game set over the weekend, Melvin said the A’s need to move past the loss.

“We have an off day tomorrow to clear our heads and we know it will be an exciting series and a big series,” he said.

Gray Gets Shelled By Rays

BY PAUL GACKLE

OAKLAND — Sonny Gray’s campaign for a third American League Pitcher of the Month award is getting off to a choppy start.

Gray, who was named the American League’s Pitcher of the Month earlier this week, lasted only 4 1/3 innings on Wednesday — his shortest big-league start — as the Tampa Bay Rays thumped the Oakland A’s 7-3 at the O.co Coliseum.

“We probably haven’t seen a game out of [Gray] like this,” A’s Manager Bob Melvin said.

By giving up six earned runs, Gray (12-5) snapped a streak in which he’d allowed one earned run or fewer while tossing six or more innings in six straight starts.

Gray, who went 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA in July, is now 0-2 with a 5.56 ERA in two August starts. He lost his first start of the month last Friday, despite allowing only three hits to the Kansas City Royals over seven innings of work.

The 24-year-old right-hander ran into trouble early, putting two runners on base in the first, two in the second and he walked the bases loaded in the third.

“He was just erratic with his fastball today,” Melvin said.

But Gray, who was also the American League’s Pitcher of the Month in April, escaped the first three innings relatively unscathed. He left six runners on base while surrendering only one run.

But the floodgates collapsed in the fourth.

Kevin Kiermai

er stretched the Rays lead to 3-0 by hitting his ninth home run of the season with Jose Molina aboard. The Rays added another run later in the inning when Evan Longoria singled in Ben Zobrist.

Gray left the game in the fifth after the Rays scored three more runs thanks to a hit by pitch and an Eric Sogard error on a potential double play ball.

“I thought I was close,” Gray said, referring to his fastball. “It just didn’t have that extra life today.”

As Gray struggled to find his location, the A’s bats continued to slump.

Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson was perfect through three innings and he retired 16 of the first 17 batters he faced before Sogard put the A’s on the board with his first home run of the season in the sixth.

“When you put your team in a hole like that, it puts a lot more pressure on the offense and it’s kind of hard to climb out of,” Gray said.

The A’s have struggled to score runs since they traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox last week.

Melvin said the pitching needs to pick up the bats.

“It’s going to happen over the course of a season — that’s where you have to be better on the defensive end and hold them down and, like last night’s game, score just enough to win,” he said. “We certainly have the pitching to do that.”

Samardzija Gets Plenty of Support in A’s Win Over Astros

BY PAUL GACKLE

OAKLAND — Brandon Moss gave Jeff Samardzija more run support in one swing than he’s received in two-thirds of his starts this season.

Samardzija has received the fourth lowest run support in the majors this season, but the A’s supplied plenty of offense on Thursday, including a grand slam from Moss, as they defeated the Houston Astros 13-1 at the O.co Coliseum.

“When you have a lead, you can take a deep breath and pound the zone,” Samardzija said.

The All-Star right-hander received little offensive help when he was a member of the Chicago Cubs earlier this year. The Cubs provided four or more runs of support in only four of his 17 starts and he received as much offense from the A’s on Thursday as his former club provided in his last six outings with the team.

The American League’s top run-scoring team opened up the scoring with a three-run, two-out rally in the third inning. Josh Donaldson picked up his 72nd RBI of the season, scoring Josh Reddick with a single to right and then Eric Sogard scored on a wild pitch after swiping third in a double steal with Donaldson.

The All-Star third baseman eventually scored on a single to right by Derek Norris.

After adding a run in the fourth, the A’s gave Samardzija a 7-1 cushion in the sixth when Moss smacked his third grand slam of the season with Coco Crisp, Donaldson and Sogard aboard.

“Twelve RBI in three at bats — that’s not fair,” A’s Manager Bob Melvin said, referring to Moss’ three grand slams. “You’ve got guys who have to work to get 12 in a month and he’s got them in three at bats.”

Samardzija said the grand slam changed the mood in the dugout.

“That really broke it wide open,” he said. “It made the dugout nice and loose.”

The A’s tacked on a ninth run later in the inning and added four more in the eighth, allowing Samardzija (2-1) to cruise to an easy victory.

Josh Reddick continued to impress in his return from the disabled list. He went 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI returning to Wham’s “Careless Whisper” as his walk-up music one night after using “Wild Thing” to the chagrin of the home crowd.

Whatever music he uses, Reddick’s hitting the ball, going 4-for-8 in two games.

As the bats piled it on, Samardzija continued to impress his new club, surrendering one run on five hits in eight innings of work. He’s pitched at least seven innings in all four of his starts with the A’s.

“He goes out there and takes nothing for granted,” Melvin said. “He’s just as comfortable, probably, in two or three-run games as he is with some runs.”

A’s Capture Bay Bridge Series With Dazzling Performance From Kazmir

BY PAUL GACKLE

SAN FRANCISCO — Scott Kazmir made his case for being the American League’s starting pitcher at the 2014 All-Star game in Minneapolis next week, throwing seven shutout innings on Thursday as the Oakland A’s picked up a series win over their cross-bay rivals at AT&T Park.

With a 6-1 win over the Giants, Kazmir is now tied for the second in the AL in wins (11), he’s third among starters in earned run average (2.38) and third in WHIP (0.98).

“He’s been as consistent as anyone in the league,” A’s Manager Bob Melvin said.

Kazmir (11-3), who’s only two years removed from being out of the majors completely, put together his best performance of the season, surrendering only three hits while tying a season high with nine strikeouts. With another stellar outing, Kazmir’s now allowed one run or fewer in 11 of his 19 starts this season.

“They seem like they’re all the same to me,” Melvin said, referring to Kazmir’s starts this season. “He gives up, it seems like zero, one or two runs, and gets you deep in the game.”

After keeping the Giants hitless through four innings, Kazmir ran into a bit of trouble in the fifth with the A’s ahead 2-0. First, Michael Morse singled and then Gregor Blanco smacked a two-out double to the right field wall.

But with runners on second and third, Giants manager Bruce Bochy allowed pitcher Tim Hudson to bat — rather than sending out a pinch hitter — and Kazmir escaped the jam by inducing a long fly wall to the base of the warning track in center field.

The A’s made Bochy pay for the decision in the sixth, chasing Hudson (7-6) out of the game with four consecutive extra-base hits, three doubles and an opposite field home run over the brick wall in right by Josh Donaldson.

“To kind of be under [the baseball] and behind it a little bit and not extend it and still hit it out up top there means you’re awfully strong,” Melvin said, referring to Donaldson’s blast over Levi’s Landing at AT&T Park.

Stephen Vogt put an exclamation point on the rally later in the inning, stretching the lead to 6-0 with a two-out single to center, scoring Jed Lowrie and Alberto Callaspo.

Vogt, who’s riding a career-high 10-game hitting streak, went 2-for-5 with three RBI. He also picked up an RBI single in the fifth.

“His at bats have been phenomenal,” Melvin said, referring to Vogt, who played first base on Thursday. “His versatility has been — we’ve really needed it here with some of the injuries we’ve had, so he’s been a star for us.”

Donaldson snapped out of a 3-for-23 slump in the contest, picking up two hits in three at bats while driving in a pair of runs. Prior to the game, the All-Star third baseman learned that he will be participating in this year’s Home Run Derby at Target Field on Monday.

“For me, it just kind of adds icing to the cake,” Donaldson said. “Hopefully, I’ll go out there and put on a show.”

A’s Top Rangers, Hold Best Record in Baseball

BY PAUL GACKLE

OAKLAND — Yoenis Cespedes flashed his speed, leather and hitting prowess at O.co Coliseum on Wednesday, propelling the Oakland A’s into baseball’s penthouse.

Cespedes went 2-for-4, scored a key run and made a highlight-reel catch in left field as the A’s topped the Texas Rangers 4-2 to move past the San Francisco Giants, claiming Major League Baseball’s best record at 44-28

“At any point in time in the season, if you can say you have the best record in baseball, it’s satisfying,” A’s Manager Bob Melvin said. “But there’s a lot of baseball yet to be played.”

In addition to having the best record in the game, the A’s currently hold a five-game lead over the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West standings.

Cespedes’ speed was on full display in the fifth inning when he scored from first base on a Brandon Moss double down the right field line, breaking a 2-2 tie by sneaking his left hand under catcher Robinson Chirinos’ glove. The lead stretched to 4-2 a couple of batters later when Stephen Vogt brought in Moss on a sacrifice fly to left.

The A’s scored their first two runs in the third inning when John Jaso doubled to left-center, scoring Craig Gentry, and Josh Donaldson brought in Jaso with a two-out single up the middle, notching his 52nd RBI of the season.

Cespedes showed off his muscle at the plate in the first inning, smacking a line drive over center fielder Leonys Martin’s head that one-hopped off the wall for a double.

As the A’s bats took care of business, Sonny Gray (7-3) returned to form on the mound, surrendering only two earned runs on six hits in seven innings of work.

After earning American League’s Pitcher of the Month honors in April, Gray cooled off toward the end of May and he entered Wednesday’s contest with a 5.63 ERA in his previous three starts.

“He’s a pretty driven kid,” Melvin said. “I don’t think he worries too much about thinking about, I need to bounce back. He’s just preparing for each outing and has high expectations for himself.”

Gray struck out the first two batters he faced on Wednesday and retired 10 of the first 11 Rangers that stepped up to the plate.

He received help from Cespedes in the fourth when the left fielder leaped in the air on the warning track to catch a rocket off the bat of Adrian Beltre, robbing him of extra bases with a runner on first.

“There always seems to be a couple of plays like that in a game, where if they don’t make the play, you never know where the game’s going to go from there,” Gray said. “At the time, it was a huge, huge play.”

Gray ran into trouble in the fifth when the Rangers scored a pair of runs off a Shin-Soo Choo single after loading up the bases with a pair of walks and an infield single. But after that, he retired six of the last seven batters he faced before Luke Gregerson pitched a scoreless eight and Sean Doolittle picked up his ninth save of the season, extending his scoreless innings streak to 22 1/3 innings.

A’s Fail to Cash In, Lose to Tigers

BY PAUL GACKLE OAKLAND — A hot-spring day in Oakland felt like October as the Detroit Tigers topped the A’s 5-4 at O.co Coliseum on Thursday.

The A’s failed to cash-in on several opportunities in the final contest of a four-game set with the Tigers, leaving 14 runners on base and going 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position, triggering memories of the team’s shortcomings in playoffs over the last two years.

“We had plenty of opportunities today,” Manager Bob Melvin said. “We had some situational at bats where we didn’t come through.”

The first bungle came in the second inning when the A’s loaded the bases with no outs but failed to score after Eric Sogard hit into an unconventional 1-2-3 double play and Coco Crisp bounced out to first.

The A’s botched another scoring chance in the fifth when they put runners on the corners with no outs before Josh Donaldson struck out, Brandon Moss popped out and Yoenis Cespedes was robbed of a hit by a diving J.D. Martinez in left field.

“That’s the game of baseball,” starter Jesse Chavez said, referring to the A’s missed opportunities. “That’s going to happen and, unfortunately, today we didn’t get that big hit.”

Tigers starting pitcher Rick Porcello tried to lend the A’s a hand in the sixth, walking Nick Punto and Coco Crisp and hitting Eric Sogard with a pitch to fill the bases with two outs. But pinch hitter Derek Norris popped up to first, leaving three more runners on base.

The A’s collected nine walks and nine hits in the contest.

The Tigers opened the scoring in the third when Ian Kinsler doubled off Chavez and Miguel Cabrera brought him in on a fielder’s choice.

The A’s jumped ahead 2-1 in the fourth when Nick Punto hit his first home run in an A’s uniform with Alberto Callaspo aboard, but the Tigers responded with two runs in the top of the fifth and they added two crucial insurance runs in the seventh off former-closer Jim Johnson, taking a 5-2 lead.

Johnson is now 0-2 with a 14.04 ERA at home this season. Once again, he was booed as he walked off the mound at the Coliseum.

Melvin said he’s uncertain about what Johnson’s role in bullpen will be going forward.

“We’ll continue to try to find a good spot for him and get him going,” he said.

Chavez (4-3) continued his May backslide, surrendering three earned runs on eight hits in six innings of work. After a dazzling April in which he went 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA, Chavez’s numbers are starting to even out. He posted a 2-3 record with a 3.90 ERA in May, giving up eight hits in each of his last two starts.

But the A’s made things interesting in the ninth, scoring two runs off doubles from Donaldson and Josh Reddick and a single by Cespedes. They put to go-ahead run on base with two outs, but Jed Lowrie grounded out to first to end the game.

The A’s return to action at O.co Coliseum on Friday taking on the second-place Los Angeles Angels, who have closed the gap in the American League West standings to two games.

White Sox, Abreu Snap A’s Six-Game Winning Streak

BY PAUL GACKLE

OAKLAND — Jose Abreu smacked an eighth inning three-run home run off the facing of the second deck in left field at O.co Coliseum, leading the Chicago White Sox to a 4-2 come-from-behind victory over the Oakland A’s on Wednesday.

With his 15th home run of the season, which leads all of baseball, Abreu helped the White Sox snap the A’s season-high six-game winning streak.

“He’s something special,” A’s starting pitcher Tommy Milone said, referring to Abreu. “Any kind of mistake that you throw to him, it seems like he’s going to hit a home run.”

With the homer, Abreu joined Wally Berger, Kevin Maas and Wally Joyner as the only players in the history of Major League Baseball to hit 15 home runs in their first 42 career games.

The A’s carried a 2-1 lead into the eighth after another stellar outing from Milone, the fifth starter in the A’s rotation. Milone surrendered only one run — a home run to second baseman Gordon Beckham on the first pitch of the game — over six innings of work, following up his eight innings of shutout baseball against the Washington Nationals on May 9.

Eight days ago, the fourth and fifth starters in the A’s rotation — Milone and Dan Straily — had a combined record of 1-5 with a 5.40 ERA. In the last week, the back-end of the rotation — with Drew Pomeranz pitching in place of Straily — is 3-0 with a 0.38 ERA.

“Drew’s really given us a spark and Tommy, the last few times out, has been as good as we’ve seen him over the last couple of years,” Manager Bob Melvin said.

John Jaso responded to Beckham’s long ball with a leadoff home run of his own in the bottom of the first inning, tying the score at 1-1. The A’s added to the lead in the fourth when Josh Donaldson hit his team-leading ninth home run of the season, the third solo shot of the day.

But the bullpen coughed up the lead in the eighth after Beckham and Conor Gillaspie picked up singles off lefty reliever Fernando Abad (0-1) and Abreu took Luke Gregerson deep with a rocket shot to left.

Gregerson leads baseball with five blown saves this season.

“He made a pitch to the middle of the plate to a real-good hitter who’s been hot,” Melvin said, adding: “His stuff’s still good.”

Four White Sox pitchers — Andre Rienzo, Scott Downs, Ronald Belisario and Matt Lindstrom — combined to hold the A’s to just three hits in the contest.

Melvin said he expects outfielder Coco Crisp, who’s missed the last seven games with a strained neck, to return to the lineup at some point during the A’s series with the Cleveland Indians, which kicks off on Friday.