Open But Not Ready For Business: A’s go down quietly in 6-0 loss to the Angels

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–In 2022, the A’s were last in the American League in hits, and second to last in runs scored. If nothing else, rule changes instituted to perk up offenses throughout the industry figured to give the A’s a needed boost.

That boost hasn’t kicked in yet.

The A’s concluded an implosive, opening weekend by being shutout 6-0 by the Angels in which they managed just two occasions with runners in scoring position. In the three game series, the A’s lost twice, while compiling three runs, one homer three doubles while striking out 26 times.

Not good.

Four of the A’s five hits on Sunday were singles, and none of the four exited the infield at above 90 mph. Esteury Ruiz, the promising infielder with top-of-the-order potential, had a slow weekend with just one hit. Jesus Aquilar, who hit 35 home runs with Milwaukee in 2018, did a little more. But the total wasn’t enough, not with the pendulum swinging back towards offense.

“Offense is momentum, and we haven’t been able to put it together and string hits together,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “We haven’t had a big inning yet this year.”

The A’s again looked for signs of improvement from starting pitcher Ken Waldichuk, who had a rough spring in which he struggled with his pitch command. On Sunday, Waldichuk produced three scoreless frames and then saw things unravel with three Angels’ homers over the next two innings.

As an illustration of how far the A’s must travel, Los Angeles superstars Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout homered back-to-back in the fifth to put the visitors up 6-0. Both had gone homeless in the series before they connected against Waldichuk.

The Angels were clearly frustrated on Thursday after they squandered Ohtani’s pitching performance and fell 2-1 to the A’s. But the response was to score 19 of the remaining 20 runs in the series and win easily on Saturday and Sunday.

“We’re swinging at the right pitches,” Angels’ manager Phil Nevin said. “That’s the thing. I like the way we’re controlling the zone. Keep hitting balls on the barrel, and we’re gonna score a lot of runs. We’re deep and want to be relentless and keep coming at you.”

Adrian Martinez stood as the A’s bright spot. The A’s reliever threw the final three innings scoreless, allowing just one hit.

On Monday, the A’s get a second difficult opponent in the Guardians to begin the season. Cleveland’s Zach Plesac and Oakland’s James Kaprelian are the announced starters.

A’s Improved? Not in 9-5 exhibition loss to the Giants at the Coliseum

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–Ken Waldichuk’s like a number of his Oakland teammates: his time is now whether he’s ready or not ready to shine.

After seven starts last season and Sunday’s rough outing against the Giants, Waldichuk appears to have a spot in the A’s starting rotation despite a 10.54 ERA this spring and five runs allowed in three plus innings work on Sunday.

Good thing manager Mark Kotsay is back for another round after 102 losses in 2022. He’s the unrepentant optimist.

“It wasn’t a successful year by any measure outside of the fact that there were some young players that got their opportunities,” Kotsay said. “Our expectation this year is we’re going to go compete and find ourselves in a position to hopefully add at the break and surprise people.

“There are players to be talked about that can establish themselves and have long careers as Oakland Athletics,” Kotsay said. “I think there’s some excitement.”

If Waldichuk is one of them, he’s going to have to establish pitch command. Hopefully, that’s sooner rather than later.

“I release the ball too far back and that’s when it starts spraying around,” Waldichuk said after surrendering a three-run homer to David Villar and walking four others.

The A’s got some similar love from Giants’ starter Alex Wood, who walked Esteury Ruiz and Seth Brown ahead of Tony Kemp’s game-tying double in the second inning. But the A’s offense went quiet after that; the Giants scored six, unanswered runs to lead 9-3 before the A’s got two solo shots in the ninth to gain respectability on the scoreboard.

The A’s scored just 568 runs in 2022, the second-fewest in the American League. In the off-season their roster needed a jolt. Instead they dealt offensive leader Sean Murphy and his 57 extra-base hits to Atlanta.

That means even more new faces in the A’s everyday lineup in 2023. Shea Langeliers is the headliner, and he should do well. Pablo Reyes and Carlos Perez, who’s hit 11 homers in limited time across four big-league seasons, might struggle. Reyes and Perez homered in the ninth inning Sunday, but they combined to hit just one other home run this spring.

Kemp, Seth Brown and shortstop Nick Allen return but that trio might not be enough to anchor a credible offense. Again, Kotsay preaches optimism.

“We’d love the opportunity to fill this place up,” Kotsay said. “There’s no better place to play in front of a full stadium than the Oakland Coliseum. I know that. I’ve experienced that.”

School’s In Session: A’s rookie Waldichuk gets lesson in 11-2 loss to the Astros

By Morris Phillips

Ken Waldichuk’s first 17 plus Major League innings on the mound are in the books. Now let’s review: what has the A’s rookie student learned?

Well, in his most recent lesson he found out the newly-crowned AL West champion Astros work fast, and hit mistakes with impunity. Waldichuk appeared to be establishing himself on Sunday afternoon, then he was done, unable to survive a five-run third inning that highlighted the hosts’ 11-2 wipeout of the A’s.

The inning started innocently enough with a strikeout, then consecutive base hits courtesy of Martin Maldonado and Jose Altuve. Then Waldichuk committed his biggest mistake: a four-pitch walk to Jeremy Pena ahead of all-world run producer Yordan Alvarez.

Did we note that Alvarez stepped into the batters box red-hot with seven hits, including four homers in the first three games of the series? Okay.

Waldichuk offered consecutive 80 mph sliders, and Alvarez crushed the second one which came within inches of a grand slam at the apex of the left center field wall. That cleared the bases, and Alex Bregman, another certified slugger, doubled home Alvarez. After the inning’s second out, Yuri Gurriel finished off Waldichuk, sending his 30th pitch of the inning into left field for a 5-0 lead.

The St. Mary’s product who was acquired from the Yankees in the Frankie Montas trade is a big guy, but not necessarily a big arm. That means the A’s must first determine if Waldichuk is best suited to start or pitch in relief, and he has experience in both roles. Allowing 14 runs in 17 2/3 inning thus far isn’t a successful audition, but he’s shown that he can build on it by minimizing his mistakes.

The first step for Waldichuk? Preparing for his next start, which could come against the playoff-mode Mets and letting go of Sunday, a lengthy lesson applied in a short period of time.

Houston’s Framber Valdez displayed what it supposed to look like, by quieting the A’s bats in a six-inning stint that resulted in his 16th win and Major League-record 25th consecutive quality start. Valdez boosted his Cy Young candidacy by limiting the visitors to two runs on four hits with seven strikeouts.

“There have been some some great pitchers that he surpassed by breaking this record and I’m just glad that he accomplished it and we won the ballgame,” manager Dusty Baker said of Valdez.

The A’s stretch of play against postseason contenders continues on Tuesday at the Coliseum. Seattle’s Luis Castillo will face JP Sears in a 6:40pm start. Manager Mark Kotsay vowed the battle will continue with the Mariners appearance.

“This team has competed all year,” Kotsay said. “We fight. We have shown that. We’re playing some good baseball teams right now that are going to be in the postseason.

“We are going to continue to grind.”