Surprise Starter Plays Stopper for A’s in Game Two of Double Header

By Matthew Harrington

Very few teams can feel confident after losing three of four games in a series, but the Oakland Athletics gained some piece of mind after dodging a four-game sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners (17-16) Wednesday evening at O.Co Coliseum. Yoenis Cespedes hit his sixth homer of the season, Drew Pomeranz fired five scoreless innings in his spot start and newly reinstalled closer Jim Johnson cruised to his second save of the season to close out a 2-0 A’s victory in game two of double header against the M’s.

The quality start by Pomeranz (2-1, 1.45 ERA), a starter by trade but long reliever out of Oakland’s necessity this season, could normally have been considered the surprise of the day. Instead, it was the fact that Oakland manager Bob Melvin penciled number 61 in for the start that most caught fans and writers alike off guard. The A’s had called up Arnold Leon from Sacramento to fill the 26th roster spot allowance for double the headers, leading many to conclude that top pitching prospect would make his Major League debut Wednesday night.

Instead Pomeranz, acquired from Colorado in the offseason in the Brett Anderson trade, got the nod and picked up his first win as a starter for the green and gold. The southpaw cruised through his five innings, allowing only one hit and no walks while striking out five. His skid-stopping appearance showed the Oakland coaching staff that he’s ready as an understudy if starters Dan Straily (1-2, 4.93) and Tommy Milone (0-3, 5.86) continue to falter. With the A’s offense scoring three runs or less in six of seven May games, it’s imperative that pitching picks up the offensive slack.

The A’s (20-15) received all the offense needed after shortstop Jed Lowrie singled Craig Gentry home off Seattle spot-starter Erasmo Ramirez (1-4, 6.00) in the third inning. Cespedes doubled the lead in the fourth after connecting on a 2-0 changeup from Ramirez to rip a liner over the wall in left field for his 20th run batted in on the season. While Cespedes now has homered on back-to-back days, third baseman Josh Donaldson saw his run of 29-straight games reaching base come to an end. Donaldson struck out three times and failed to reach base in four at-bats Wednesday.

Reliever Dan Otero strung together three shutout innings out of the pen after going a third of an inning in game one to save a staff that pitched four innings in the extra innings afternoon loss. Jim Johnson, taking the mound to a smattering of boos, silenced the critics momentarily by pitching a perfect ninth for his first save since April 6th. The A’s bullpen opened the second game down a man after Ryan Cook left game one in the tenth with an arm injury. The initial belief with the Oakland staff is that Cook’s injury is not that serious. Coco Crisp also exited game one after suffering a neck strain after crashing into the wall on an outstanding catch in the top of the fourth. Melvin expects his starting center fielder to be out for a few days, but will avoid time on the disabled list.

The A’s take Thursday off before welcoming their first interleague opponent to Oakland this season when the Washington Nationals come to town for a three-game set. Doug Fister is expected to make his 2014 debut with the Nats, facing Milone to open the series.

Gray Dominates, Darvish Scuffles As Oakland Takes AL West Lead

Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers, Monday, April 28, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers, Monday, April 28, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

By Matthew Harrington

All eyes were focused as two opposing aces took the hill Monday night at Globe Life Park in Arlington, with the visiting Oakland Athletics countering Texas Rangers star Yu Darvish with young phenom Sonny Gray in the battle for first place in the American League West. The A’s (16-10)proved victorious behind their young arm, securing a 4-0 decision to open up the three-game series against the 2010 World Series runner-ups and take their place atop the division standings.

For Darvish, a pattern of struggles against the A’s plagued the Japanese sensation once again in one of his worst starts since exploding on the Major League scene in 2012. His foe in green and gold produced an earmarked performance which, to date, goes down as Gray’s greatest outing in his blossoming career pegged for superstardom.

The Swinging A’s knocked Darvish around early, scoring four runs and knocking the Rangers All-Star out of the game after 3 1/3 innings. Darvish retired seven of the first eight batters he faced, but his lack of command of the strike zone forced him out of the game trailing 4-0 with 83 pitches thrown. Monday marked just the second time in 66 career starts Darvish failed to pitch through five innings, with his loss to Gray being the shortest appearance of his career. Darvish (1-1, 2.59) is now 1-7 against Oakland with a mortal ERA of 4.73 all-time.

Gray took the decision of who pitches the ninth inning out of manager Bob Melvin’s hands, pitching his first ever complete game. Rumors had swirled that Jim Johnson, relegated to middle relief after a pair of rough outings to open the season, may see a return to the closer’s role. The A’s starter ensured the speculation would continue on another day, finishing his masterpiece himself to open the three-game series in Texas. Gray needed 108 pitches, 73 for strikes, to dispatch the Rangers (15-11) handedly Monday night. Gray (4-1, 1.76) picked up six strikeouts with only one walk while allowing only three hits including a generous scoring decision on catcher Robinson Chirinos’ single in the sixth inning.

Athletics third basemen Josh Donaldson delivered the big blow of the day, ripping a two-run single with the bases loaded in the third for a 2-0 lead with one out. Catcher John Jaso greeted Darvish with a single to open the next inning before coming home on Josh Reddick’s line-drive triple to right in the following at-bat. First basemen Daric Barton scored Reddick with a sacrifice fly for the fourth and final A’s run. Darvish faced one more batter, walking Eric Sogard before turning the game over to Aaron Poreda. Poreda finished the inning before starter Nick Martinez came out of the bullpen to pitch the final five scoreless frames.

The Rangers best chance to touch Gray up for a run came in the sixth inning after Chironos reached first with one out on a play scored a hit after shortstop Jed Lowrie deflected the ball to Donaldson at third base. Chironos advanced to second on a wild pitch with Michael Choice at the plate. Choice lined out, but Chironos moved to third on another wild pitch with Elvis Andrus at the dish. Andrus grounded out to third to end the scoring threat.

The Rangers only other at-bat with a man in scoring position came with Leonys Martin at second base after a single and a Chirinos hit-by-pitch with one out in the bottom of the third. Gray induced a grounder from Choice on an 0-1 count that Lowrie scooped up at short, stepping on second base for the force out before firing the ball to first to complete the twin killing and escape unscathed.

The A’s continue game two of the three-game set Tuesday evening, sending Texas native Scott Kazmir to the mound looking to remain undefeated on the season and add to a now one-game division lead over the team in the opposing dugout. The Rangers counter with lefty Martin Perez, author of a three-hit complete game shutout of his own against Gray and the A’s at O.Co Coliseum last Wednesday.