The O in Ohtani stands for zero outs in A’s 6-4 win over the Angels

By Morris Phillips

Major League Baseball has quite a bit of anonymity running through it these days, so here goes in recapping the Angels and A’s on Sunday:

The biggest name came up a little bit short, the most transcendent name didn’t last long, and the newest name went the furthest in the A’s 6-4 win at the Coliseum.

The A’s took full advantage of Shohei Ohtani’s unraveled return to the mound, striking for five runs out the gate before the two-way star was removed without recording an out. But the A’s were stymied by starter-turned-reliever Matt Andriese (5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief) and superstar Mike Trout (4 RBI) which turned a rout into a tense game in the fifth.

We pause at this point to examine how Ohtani’s 11th major league start–and his first since Tommy John surgery in 2018–became his worst, and how Trout came tantalizing close to rescuing his teammate with a second, three-run homer in the game’s first five innings.

Ohtani, the singular big league talent who combines a home run swing with a nasty, mid 90’s fastball-slider combo wiped out the A’s in his second big league start, a 12-strikeout masterpiece littered with unhittable sliders in April 2018 at the Coliseum.  Despite being used conservatively by the Angels, as an occasional DH and having a no less than a full week between starts, Ohtani experienced arm discomfort that truncated his rookie season as a pitcher.  He kept hitting that season before having the surgery in the off-season, then missing all of 2019 as a pitcher, while continuing his designated hitter duties.

Ohtani’s summer camp procceded naturally–and trouble free–a ramp up of velocity and length over three appearances. He appeared ready to pitch effectively on Sunday, his first start for new manager Joe Maddon.

Marcus Semien, with just one hit in his first eight at-bats, took Ohtani back up the middle for a leadoff single. The next three batters all walked as Ohtani took deep breaths on the mound and looked less than comfortable. Singles by Mark Canha and Robbie Grossman increased the A’s lead to 4-0, and forced Maddon’s hand after the Japanese star faced just six batters.

“He just didn’t throw the ball very well,” Maddon said. “I can’t sit here making excuses for him. I’m not going to do that. It just wasn’t his day. The fastball wasn’t coming out, there was no deception in his pitches.”

Tellingly, Ohtani hit 94 mph as high–slightly off the 96 mph he regularly hit in 2018–and threw just two sliders. No doubt, healthy, but tentative, not surprising given his injury and infrequent pitching assignments going back over three years now.

“Right now I feel like I was throwing the ball rather than pitching,” Ohtani said through his interpreter. “There is still a little rust. I have to come up with a game plan.”

Trout came up in an advantageous situation in the third with a pair of runners aboard and gifted a 3-0 count by Fiers. Not through granting gifts, Fiers looked to get back in the count with a batting practice fastball that Trout launched. Not surprising, but the bomb was the first of Trout’s 286 career homers to come on a 3-0 count. In fact, only five times in 210 situations had Trout resolved an at-bat on a 3-0 pitch with a swing, and that produced just one single. Needless to say, Fiers had little to fear, except…

When Brian Goodwin and David Fletcher opened the fifth, as they did in the third, with back-to-back singles, Fiers got a relatively early hook as well. But Yusmeiro Petit back the starter with three consecutive outs, including a sacrifice fly that reached the warning track induced off Trout’s bat. That smash would have given the Angels the lead, instead it made Petit the game’s subtle hero.

Four other A’s relievers followed, concluding  with Liam Hendriks’ four-out save, and none allowed a run. The heroes in Oakland’s 2-1 start to the season? The bullpen with one run allowed in 15 plus innings of work.

“They’ve been fantastic,” Bob Melvin noted. “We knew the bullpen would be very important in the beginning of the year. They’ve been up to the task.”

Sean Murphy, the first A’s catcher to truly be handed the keys to the car by Melvin since Stephen Vogt departed, finished the Halos with a 455-foot home run in the sixth. First pitch swinging against reliever Noe Ramirez, Murphy was everything Trout wasn’t with his controlled, home run swing in the third: violent and powerful.

“He’s about as strong as anybody and can hit the ball as far as anyone on our team. All it takes for a guy like him is one pitch,” Melvin said of his young catcher.

The A’s conclude the wraparound, four-game series on Monday with Griffin Canning facing familiar face, Chris Bassitt for the A’s.

Youth Movement: A’s hope trio of top prospects make an immediate impact

By Morris Phillips

OAKLAND–The Dodgers traded for Mookie Betts, the Yankees signed free agent Gerrit Cole, who is anything but free, and the Twins struck late, adding Josh Donaldson to their collection of sluggers.

The A’s didn’t sign any big names, or little ones for that matter. But that doesn’t mean they stood put. A.J. Puk, Jesus Luzardo and Sean Murphy–each among the Top 60 prospects in all of baseball–are being counted on to be big league contributors starting on Opening Night July 24.

Luzardo, the A’s No. 1 prospect, has been cleared to resume workouts after testing positive for COVID-19, the timing of which threatened his availability for the opener. But while preparing to be cleared, Luzardo lobbied the coaching staff, and did whatever he could physically to gain preparedness.

“I figured out ways to get little lifts in my room while listening to my body,” Luzardo said. “If I was feeling good that day, I’d get after it. If I was a little tired, I took it lighter. I definitely tried to stay in shape.”

Originally tabbed as a starter, Luzardo could start the season in the bullpen, where he would remain ideally until he regains a starter’s stamina. Puk seems set as the fourth starter with Murphy assuming the starting catcher’s role after a successful, 20-game audition in 2019.

Puk, Luzardo and Murphy all saw time at the big league level last season, and given their performances, expectations are high that all three can excel and kiss the minor leagues farewell.

Murphy was a third round selection in the 2016 Draft and he’s moved quickly through the organization’s minor league structure,  compiling 90 extra-base hits in 235 games over four seasons. The 24-year old impressed manager Bob Melvin with his attention to detail in handling the pitching staff, so much so he was picked to start the AL Wild Card Game against the Rays. Murphy’s had issues with knee injuries so the shortened 60-game schedule may prove ideal for his adjustment to the majors.

Puk, the 6’7” flamethrower chosen sixth overall in the 2016 Draft, made ten appearances, all in relief, for Oakland in 2019. He was 2-0 with 3.18 ERA, striking out 13 batters in 11 plus innings of work. Despite missing all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery,  Puk compiled 262 strikeouts in 183 innings at the various minor league levels.

The 24-year old hasn’t experienced any setbacks in either spring or summer training, giving him jump on veterans Daniel Mengden and Chris Bassitt for a spot in the starting rotation. No official announcements have been made but Puk appears on track to get a start against the Angels opening weekend.

Luzardo was acquired in the 2017 trade that sent Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to Washington. His profile as a polished performer has the A’s brass excited to see more after the 22-year old made just six appearances at the big league level in 2019 while battling injuries. In 43 minor league starts, Luzardo won 14 times compiling a 2.53 ERA. He also appeared in the 2019 Wild Card Game, throwing three innings, allowing just one hit, all while the A’s failed to rally from a five-run deficit.

A’s beat the Astros 5-3 on Wednesday night to take a 2-1 series lead

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Graphic @Athletics

By Charlie O. Mallonee

When you have to play a four-game series with the team who owns the second-best record in Major League Baseball, your goal has to be to go for a 2-2 split. That most certainly is a success level. You might not have gained any positions, but you will not have lost any either.

On Wednesday night, the A’s beat the Astros 5-3 to take a 2-1 series lead in their four-game series with the mighty Houston Astros. Now, the Athletics can play with “reckless abandon” on Thursday night and try to win the series. Not only would that help them in their pursuit of the AL Wild Card Slot #1, but it would really put them inside the heads of the Astros, who could be their first-round opponents in AL Playoffs.

LHP Brett Anderson has a strong start

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Photo: @Athletics

Anderson worked 5.0-innings allowing just two runs (both earned) off seven hits (one HR). He walked three and struck out four hitters. George Springer hit his 34th home run of the season off 2-2 pitch from Anderson. It traveled 433 feet over the center-field wall.

Anderson threw 86 pitches (54 strikes). He was also credited with the win, which raised his record to 12-9 for the year. Anderson faced 23 batters in his 5.0-innings on the mound.

An A’s reliever stepped into the spotlight

Jesus Luzardo made his long-awaited major league debut on Wednesday when he entered the game as a reliever for Anderson. Oakland had scored four runs in the top of the sixth inning to stake the rookie to a 5-2 lead.

Luzardo got off to a great start getting the first two hitters out, but then he gave up a home run to Martin Maldonado. He gathered himself and struck out Myles Straw for the third out of the inning.

Luzardo set the Astros down in order in the seventh and eighth innings.

The rookie LHP worked 3.0-innings giving up one run (earned) off one hit while walking none and striking out two Astros. He tossed 36 pitches (22 strikes).

Luzardo became the first player born in Peru to play in the major leagues.

Don’t forget the guy who got the save

Mr. Dependable — Liam Hendriks — recorded his 20th save of the season setting the Astros down in order including striking out two batters.

Focus on the A’s with the bat

  • Marcus Semien had a 3-for-5 night with the bat scoring two runs and posting one RBI. One of his hits was his 28th home run of the season.
  • Rookie Sean Murphy went 1-for-4 at the plate. He hit his fourth home run of the season in the sixth inning.
  • Matt Olson had a 1-for-4 night hitting with a double (24) that drove in two runs.

AL Wild Card Race

The Tampa Bay Rays are still in Wild Card Slot #1 but by just 1/2 game over the A’s. The A’s own AL Wild Card Slot #2 but are just 1/2 game ahead of the Indians.

It really is a three-team race. The Red Sox are now 10.0-games out the Wild Card and have lost five games in a row. They are now playing for next year.

Up Next

It will be a good pitching matchup in the season-series finale between the A’s and the Astros on Thursday night. The A’s will send RHP Homer Bailey (12-8, 4.87 ERA) to the mound to face possible Cy Young winner RHP Justin Verlander (18-5, 2.52 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 5:10 PM Bay Area time.

A’s crush the Astros 21-7 on Tuesday night

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Graphic: @NBCSCA

By Charlie O Mallonee @Charlieo1320

This morning on my Oakland A’s podcast with Lee Leonard, I told our listeners not to panic about the A’s 15-0 loss to the Astros on Monday night. Baseball is a funny game and sometimes a game will just get away from a team. Just as frequently, when a team scores a bundle of runs in a game – they will not be able to repeat that feat in the next game no matter how hard they try. It’s just a “baseball thing”.

The A’s turned the table on Tuesday

Oakland showed up on Tuesday night ready to play and scored seven – that’s right seven – runs in the top of the first inning before the Astros ever had a chance to pick up a bat. The Houston starting pitcher – Wade Miley – was credited with working 0.1-innings while giving up seven runs (all earned) off seven hits. He walked one and struck out none. Miley entered the game with a record of 13-4 and an ERA of 3.74. His record is now 13-5.

It was like the A’s had all of this pent-up energy that just had to be released and they took it all out on the Astros on Tuesday night. The A’s scored two runs in the second inning, two in the third, six runs in the fourth, two more in the fifth, one in the sixth and tacked one more on in the top of the ninth inning for a total of 21.

Oakland won the game 21-7.

Tanner Roark picked up the win

Tanner Roark picked up his 10th victory of the season in this game. He worked 5.2-innings allowing five runs (all earned) off eight hits. He walked one and struck out three. He did give up three home runs. Roark threw 105 pitches (65 strikes).

Ryan Buchter faced one-hitter and Daniel Mengden worked 3.0-innings giving up two runs (both earned) on four hits. He walked two and struck out one. Mengden did allow one home run.

Focus on the A’s with the bat

  • Mark Canha: went 3-for-6 with three runs scored and one RBI.
  • Chad Pinder: also had a 3-for-6 game scoring one run and adding an RBI.
  • Khris Davis: joined the 3-for-6 club with two runs scored and three RBI. Davis hit his 20th HR in the game.
  • Sean Murphy: had a two-home run game. He went 3-for-5 at the plate with three runs scored and four RBI.
  • Matt Olson hit two home runs and now has 31 for the year.
  • Marcus Semien hit his 27th round-tripper of the season in this contest.
  • For the A’s, it was 21 runs off 25 hits and just eight men left on base.

Wild Card Race

Tampa Bay, Oakland, and Cleveland all were winners on Tuesday. The Rays stay in Wild Card Slot #1 with a 1.5-game lead over the A’s. The A’s own Wild Card Slot #2 with a 0.5-game lead over the Indians. The race is tight and very competitive.

After the Houston series, the A’s do have a game versus a team with a winning record.

Up Next

Game three of the four-game series will be played on Wednesday night at 5:10 PM PDT. LHP Brett Anderson (11-9, 4.08) will start for Oakland while RHP Jose Urquidy (1-1, 5.33) will take the mound for Houston.