By Matthew Harrington
OAKLAND, Calif. – Monday night marked a pitching matchup of eerily similar pitcher profiles. Two players amid career renaissances met in a showdown that would have stolen the Sportscenter spotlight just six or seven years ago by now over a half-decade later proved to be a showdown between starters just now rediscovering the promise of their abilities. In the end the outcome was just as unexpected as the winning pitcher’s ability to find a way to win.
The Seattle Mariners (15-15) bested the Oakland Athletics in the battle of the unbeaten starters, with lanky right hander Chris Young topping fellow former All-Star Scott Kazmir on a Monday evening match-up at O.Co Coliseum. Oakland got a two run home run from Brandon Moss but M’s outfielder’s Stefan Romero’s first career long ball proved the difference-maker as Young and the Seattle bullpen held the Swinging A’s to just four hits in a 4-2 Mariners win.
“You don’t see him a lot,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin. “He’s an acquired taste. He’s unique in what he does. You look at the gun, he’s throwing 85 miles per hour throwing balls by you.”
Young (2-0, 3.03 ERA) baffled A’s hitters despite boasting a fastball that could be measured in miles per day, not hour. Young’s “heater” sat comfortably in the mid-to-low eighties on the radar gone throughout the evening, a speed that’d usually make any pro hitter’s eyes light up. Despite the shortcomings in velocity, the towering 6-foot-10 righty pitched six innings, holding the A’s (19-13) to just three hits while striking out and walking a pair each.
“It’s just different than a lot of guys you face,” said Moss of facing Young. “Obviously it looks like he’s throwing soft and the radar gun says he’s throwing soft but the way he pitches up and down makes it tough. It’s so rare that you see something like that. With that arm angle and that height it looks like he’s throwing out of the sky.”
Young did not pitch in the MLB at all during 2013 and pitched a combined 159 innings with the New York Mets and San Diego Padres since 2010. Like pitching foe Kazmir, Young appeared on the track to superstardom after earning an All-Star spot in 2007 with the Padres but had injuries derail a promising career. Young picked up the loss in the game, saw his ERA balloon from 3.12 in 2007 to 3.96 in 2008 before bloating to 5.21 in 2009. He now appears on track to becoming a valuable contributor to an MLB team after being released by the Washington Nationals earlier in the Spring.
“He’s not a guy that some team just runs out there,” echoed Moss. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to pitch. He knows how to get outs when he needs them. People see velocity and they want to judge people on that, but he can pitch.”
Young’s over-the-top delivery baffled Oakland batters for three and 1/3 no-hit innings to open play before shortstop Jed Lowrie broke through with his fourth-inning, no-out single. Left fielder Moss plated Lowrie with his two-run blast to right center on a belt-high 86 mph fastball, his fifth round-tripper of the season. The dinger marks the 10th all-time round-tripper against Seattle for Moss, the most he’s hit against one team.
“It was a mistake,” said Moss of the pitch he hammered over the wall. “He had thrown me one there earlier in the at-bat and I was in front of it. The more pitches I saw, the better my timing got. He’s a tough guy to face.”
Moss’ four-bagger pulled Oakland even after the Mariners capitalized early on an off-night from Kazmir (4-1, 2.64) by pushing two runs across in the first inning. Leadoff man Michael Saunders and Stefan Romero greeted the southpaw with back-to-back singles just out of reach of A’s infielders to open the game. Big offseason acquisition Robinson Cano struck out looking but designated hitter Corey Hart drove a single through the right side of the infield to bring Saunders around from second.
“That’s baseball,” said Kazmir. “I just had to focus on the stuff that I can control. With Saunders I ended up getting two strikes on him. I tried throwing him a fastball outside but it ended up being right over the middle of the plate and up and he was able to handle it. Then there was the changeup hit into the hole (by Romero). That’s something where, if maybe I pitched a little better there’d be a different outcome. After that first inning I just tried to get as deep as I could into the game.”
Romero advanced to third on the play as well, though if Craig Gentry weren’t subbing in in right field due to Josh Reddick’s ankle injury sustained Sunday in Boston, a play at the plate or third base could have been a possibility. Romero instead came around to score on Kyle Seager’s groundout for a 2-0 M’s lead with a half inning in the books. Romero also touched Kazmir for another run in the fifth, turning around a Kazmir 0-1 delivery to left field for his first homer in the Major Leagues.
“His velocity was down,” said batterymate Jaso. “He left a couple off-speed pitches in the zone. The homer was on a changeup and it was on a guy who swings and misses on changeups but location is key. When he got hurt it was just location.”
Kazmir opened the sixth inning by surrendering a 1-2 count single to Cole Gillespie, then watched him advance to second on a wild pitch to Brad Miller. The Seattle shortstop connected on the run-scoring base hit after lifting a fly ball to left field. Moss original charged the ball and appeared to have a chance to make a routine catch, but he put up a hand to his face as the ball dropped in front of him for the hit.
“As soon as it went up it went in the lights,” said Moss, primarily a first basemen by trade. “I was hoping it would come out of it but I could tell that it wasn’t going to. I tried to back up and keep it in front of me. I wanted to keep the runner from second from scoring and keep the other guy on first. I backed up and tried to get it in to (Donaldson) as quick as possible. Sometimes those plays feel worse than errors. At least when you make an error, you know it’s your fault. You can take ownership for it. When something like that happens, that’s tough. You want to make plays for your guys.”
Miller swiped second and third off Kazmir with catcher Mike Zunino at the plate, but third basemen Josh Donaldson cut a greey Miller down at the plate after he tried to score on a tapper down the line. Catcher John Jaso applied the tag for the easy out.
Seattle ran into the third out of the inning as well when Moss caught Zunino trying to go first-to-third on a Saunders single in the gap to left center. Moss atoned for his early miscue after his throw beat Zunino to the bag for the tag by Donaldson.
Kazmir departed the game after the inning, allowing four runs on eight hits with only three punchouts and a pair of walks. Kazmir also plunked Hart for the lone hit-by-pitch of the game and fired one wild pitch in a night where his best stuff and usual velocity eluded him.
“They just got to him early,” said Melvin of his veteran hurler. “They got him out of his rhythm early on. He recovered some, he battled. It probably wasn’t the best stuff we’ve seen this year. The velocity was down a little bit. You’re going to have days like that but he still kept us in the game.”
The A’s put the leadoff batter on just once all night after Donaldson singled up the middle in the bottom of the seventh, reaching base in the 27th-straight contest. The next batter Moss fell behind 0-2 before drawing the walk in a 12 pitch battle against Young. Manager Lloyd McClendon saw enough out of his starter, lifting him for lefty Charlie Furbush to face designated hitter Alberto Callaspo.
Callaspo entered play Monday night hitting .308 with runners on base. The switch-hitter also came having hit into six double plays, “good” for second in the American League. Callaspo added to that total, bouncing into the 6-4-3 twin killing.
“He hits it hard,” said Melvin of Callaspo’s grounder. “He just hit it right at the shortstop. (Callaspo) is a guy we feel good about in those situations. He’s gotten big hits for us all year. Sometimes you just square it up and hit it right at someone. It was a bit of a momentum changer.”
Pinch hitter Derek Norris walked off newly-inserted reliever Dominic Leone to keep the A’s threat. A’s manager Bob Melvin sent Reddick to the plate for Gentry, but ended up burning the outfielder’s availability after McClendon countered by calling on Joe Beimel for the lefty-lefty match-up. Melvin sent Yoenis Cespedes, another ailing Athletics outfielder, to the plate in Reddick’s stead, but the 2013 Home Run Derby champion popped out to Cano at second to end the rally.
“He was good enough to swing the bat,” said Melvin when asked after the game if he’d send a hampered Reddick to the plate. “He was good enough to potentially stay with it.”
In total, Seattle used five relievers with set-up man Yoervis Medina picking up his seventh hold and Fernando Rodney completed a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his eighth save on the campaign. Fernando Abad pitched a dominant seventh inning for Oakland and Ryan Cook pitched two innings to avoid taxing a green and gold bullpen that pitched four innings in a 3-2 extra innings win at Boston Sunday.
The A’s have now dropped three of their last four after exploding for 12 runs Wednesday to complete a sweep of the Texas Rangers. The A’s have scored just eight runs in the quartet of contests since. They’ll look to regain the scoring touch against Roenis Elias in game two of the four-game set Tuesday night. Oakland will counter with the surprise player of the season, Jesse Chavez.
“That’s just how it goes,” said Jaso. “There are ups and downs throughout the year. Maybe tomorrow we’ll come out and score ten, maybe we’ll win a 1-0 ballgame. You never know, that’s just how it works.”