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August 21, 2013
Bullpen lapses in A's 7-4 loss to Mariners; Norris fractures toe

OAKLAND -- Give Sean Doolittle credit. After arguably the worst outing of his career cost the A's in a game they were in a good position to win Tuesday night -- following a four-run first inning and another strong start by rookie Sonny Gray -- Doolittle stood by his locker and wore it after allowing the Mariners' five-run eighth to get out of control and send the A's to a 7-4 loss.

"(Gray) pitched his (butt) off and he goes seven innings, he gives us a chance to win," Doolittle said. "All we've got to do is get six outs and they got four runs before we even got one out. Made a mess of that eighth inning.

"Your offense gives you four runs and Sonny goes out and does his job. We felt like that was a game we should have won. I don't know, just not the right night, not the right time of year to have an inning like that."

Doolittle entered the eighth with the A's leading 4-2, faced four hitters and allowed four hits, with all four eventually coming in to score. It was just the second time Doolittle has failed to record an out in a major-league game. When the inning was over, the A's trailed 7-4, Gray was no longer in line for the win, Ryan Cook had also allowed a run for just the second time in 22 outings and the A's dropped a game in the standings to Texas, which beat Houston at home.

To add injury to insult, in this case, catcher Derek Norris also left the game in the eighth after fracturing his left big toe while trying to apply a swipe tag on Nick Franklin on the run-scoring fielder's choice. Manager Bob Melvin said it's unclear if Norris will have to be placed on the disabled list.

When the A's have taken a lead into the eighth inning this season, they've been nearly unbeatable with Doolittle, Cook and Grant Balfour nailing down the back end of games. They entered Tuesday with a 55-2 record when leading after seven.

"We don't see that often," Melvin said. "I think that was surprising to everybody. But you're going to have some games where you don't get it done and that was the case today."

Michael Saunders led off against Doolittle with a single in a nine-pitch at-bat. Henry Blanco then hit a line drive to left that Yoenis Cespedes had in his glove for a split second before it popped out for a double.

"He took like one half-step with it in his glove and it just kind of shot out," Doolittle said. "But at the end of the day I threw a ball right down the middle to a good fastball hitter and he turned on it."

That opened the floodgates, as Doolittle allowed a pair of RBI singles before exiting the game having thrown 19 pitches and not recorded an out. Cook came on and got ahead of Kyle Seager 0-2 before walking him to load the bases in a 4-4 game. He then threw a wild pitch that allowed a run to score, and eventually let two more runners across on the fielder's choice and another wild pitch.

"If I do my job, he doesn't have to come in in the first place," Doolittle said. "On some level that's on me for him having to get ready really quick and come into the ballgame with guys on base and no outs."

Cook, meanwhile, said he had "plenty of time to warm up." He attributed the coincidence of he and Doolittle having bad outings in the same inning to "kind of just a (rough) deal."

Melvin said that, in Doolittle's case, it appeared the lefty just left pitches over the middle of the plate and paid for it. Doolittle has been scored upon in three of his last four outings after going 12 in a row without allowing a run, and said that's perplexing as well.

"I feel great," he said. "Obviously some of that deception's not there and for whatever reason they're picking it up. I'm leaving it kind of thigh-high over the middle."

As for he and Cook having bad outings on the same night, Doolittle said: "Maybe we got it both out of our system on one night."

* Norris left the clubhouse before talking to reporters, so there won't be any updates on his status until tomorrow. It was an odd play at the plate -- Franklin also left the game with a knee laceration, and TV replays showed his pant leg had ripped open over the knee following his slide.

The A's are already down one catcher for health reasons, as John Jaso hasn't played since July 24 with a concussion and hasn't resumed many baseball activities yet. Stephen Vogt has been a pleasant surprise platooning with Norris, particularly with his defense, but the A's surely didn't envision Vogt as an everyday option.

The A's have Ryan Ortiz and David Freitas, both right-handed hitters, catching at Triple-A Sacramento right now. But they'd have a hard time replacing Norris, who has worked the most with the pitching staff despite his young age and generates a lot of confidence with his preparation for opponents and how he handles the different pitchers.

"He plays a pretty integral role on our team," Cook said. "What he does behind the plate is special, the way he works with us on the mound is special. The way he's been swinging it as of late is obviously a big loss to any team."

* Melvin said before the game that when the A's front office was assessing its rotation depth before this season, Gray's status was "the one equation we didn't know." So far, Gray has thrown 25 innings in the majors, allowed 12 hits and four earned runs, and struck out 27 batters.

"It's good to see," Melvin said. "He's got some presence out there, certainly has the stuff. And he keeps giving us impressive outings."

Gray's lone mistake was a changeup that Nick Franklin hit for a two-run home run in the third. Otherwise, Gray allowed one hit -- a double to Raul Ibanez in the second -- and he retired 12 of the final 13 hitters he faced of a Mariners lineup that included seven left-handed hitters.

He also handled the no-decision well. Asked what he was thinking during the top of the eighth, Gray said: "It's tough, but if the same situation came up tomorrow, I think we probably would do the same thing. We've got one of the best back ends of the bullpen in the league. It just doesn't always go your way."

Gray might have been a question mark even a month ago, but right now it looks like the A's would have a tough time removing him from the rotation if they needed a spot for Brett Anderson or Bartolo Colon. The latter they won't have to worry about until early September at the earliest, while Anderson's return sounds more imminent but Melvin has left it open-ended whether Anderson will be used as a starter or reliever.

* Overshadowed by that eighth inning was how many scoring chances the A's had even after their four-run first. They led 3-0 after the first three hitters against Joe Saunders -- as Jed Lowrie tripled, Norris singled and Josh Donaldson hit his second home run since the All-Star Break -- and Nate Freiman made it a four-run game with a solo homer. But the A's put 13 more runners on base before the game was over and none of them scored, as they finished 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

"We had Saunders on the ropes a couple times and could've done a little more damage," Melvin said. "It was a great start to it but a bad finish."

Donaldson said he thought the big early lead "might have had a little bit to do with it. Some guys might have kind of laid back a little bit."

Asked to clarify, he said: "People were having good at-bats all game. It might've been -- I'm not saying it was 100 percent. Those guys normally come in and deal. It was a weird game and a weird (eighth) inning."

After a slow start out of the All-Star Break, Donaldson has been more of the run producer lately that he was in the first half. He has seven RBIs in his last four games after driving in just three in his previous 26 games. His homer off Saunders was just his second since the break in 102 at-bats.

* Lowrie entered the game batting .500 in three starts this season as the A's leadoff hitter and went 2-for-5, though he also struck out twice including once with runners on first and second in the fourth inning. Expect to see Coco Crisp back there Wednesday -- Crisp was out of the lineup Tuesday against the left-hander Saunders -- as batting right-handed has been the side that more affects his sore left wrist -- but he's expected to start the finale.

* That pitching matchup will be Hisashi Iwakuma (11-6, 2.95) vs. A.J. Griffin (10-8). First pitch at 12:35 p.m., meaning an update on Norris will likely come from Melvin around 11 a.m. Stay tuned.

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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