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August 4, 2013
Melvin on A's offense after 4-0 loss: 'We just need to sustain it'

OAKLAND -- After being shut out for eight innings by Derek Holland on Sunday, the A's tried to mount a rally in the ninth against Rangers closer Joe Nathan. Josh Donaldson drew a leadoff walk and Yoenis Cespedes followed with a single, giving the A's a runner in scoring position with nobody out for the first time all game.

But Nate Freiman hit into a fielder's choice and Alberto Callaspo, who's still hitless since joining the A's, grounded into a game-ending double play. The A's, who lost 4-0 Sunday to finish their homestand 5-5, are in that kind of offensive rut right now, hitting .212 and averaging 3.2 runs in their last 22 games.

They're still 12-10 in that span, thanks largely to a pitching staff that has allowed two or fewer runs eight times. But whether it's running into a well-pitched game like Holland's on Sunday or squandering opportunities with runners on -- and the A's were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position in the game -- they're not getting consistent production from the offense right now.

"We're having a tough time putting two good games in a row together," manager Bob Melvin said. "We do have the guys and the ability to take care of that and we're confident we will. We just need to sustain it, not just one game here and one game there. We need to get on a roll with it."

It's difficult to point at a team-wide slump, as several regulars actually had pretty good offensive numbers on the homestand. Jed Lowrie was 14-for-41, though he went hitless in four at-bats Sunday. Eric Sogard is on an 11-game hitting streak, Derek Norris went 5-for-15 with a pair of home runs, Brandon Moss was 10-for-27, Yoenis Cespedes hit .333 over the final seven games.

But others are struggling -- Coco Crisp went 7-for-40, Josh Donaldson was 6-for-36, Josh Reddick finished 4-for-28 -- and more often than not the A's haven't been stringing hits together or aren't coming up with timely ones. Crisp was asked Sunday if some hitters are pressing and said he didn't think so.

"Guys are just going up there and sometimes balls fall, sometimes they don't," he said. "But we've been hitting the ball well. It's just a run of unfortunate luck."

Reddick was one example Sunday -- with two on and two out in the second inning, he hit a sharp ground ball up the middle on which Ian Kinsler made a backhanded dive to take away a hit. Reddick came up again with two on and two outs in the seventh and struck out against Holland, slamming his bat angrily.

Melvin said Reddick, who has had a trying season dealing with a wrist injury and seeing his average sink to .208 on Sunday, has had some of the hardest luck of anybody in the A's lineup.

"He's at times been frustrated all year," Melvin said. "And if he does put together a really good at-bat, hits the ball hard at somebody, that can be doubly frustrating when you're trying to get out of a hole that has been there for a while.

"It's kind of similar to what we're going through offensively. It's kind of him in a nutshell. Just can't get something sustained going well."

That can put added pressure on the pitching staff, knowing they'll be in tight games night in and night out, although Sunday's starter A.J. Griffin wasn't using that as an excuse.

"That's something you don't worry about as a starting pitcher," Griffin said. "You're trying to go out and throw up zeroes every inning.

"I'm not worried about our lineup," he said. "We're going to turn the corner here."

Norris, who went hitless with two strikeouts in three at-bats Sunday, shrugged off the offensive skid as something that "just happens over the course of a full season." He said the day off Monday before the A's play road series in Cincinnati -- a notoriously kind stadium for hitters -- and Toronto -- indoors -- should be beneficial.

"Everybody gets to rest up, clear their heads, do what they need to do to get back on track," Norris said. "Hopefully we can get back on track in some decent hitters' parks."

* Griffin admitted being frustrated with his outing Sunday. He allowed just five hits and struck out seven, but two of the hits were home runs on "mistakes". And though he didn't bring this up, it's arguable he should have been out of both the first and seventh innings before the Rangers scored three of their four runs.

Yoenis Cespedes dropped a catchable fly ball with two outs in the first, allowing Ian Kinsler to reach second and score on Adrian Beltre's single. In the seventh, Nate Freiman couldn't secure a foul pop-up by Craig Gentry, who then singled with two outs to set up Mitch Moreland's two-run homer to right that ended Griffin's outing.

"The first inning I think Yoenis just thought he was a little closer to the wall and jumped although he wasn't there," Melvin said. "The big one really is the two-run homer, the pitch to Moreland."

Norris said Griffin had "probably one of the better outings I've seen from him" and made "three mistakes" -- the Beltre single in the first and the two home runs, which both came on 0-1 pitches.

"He was on location, had his fastball command, his curveball command, his changeup command," Norris said. "When it comes down to it he just had a bit of bad luck today."

Griffin wasn't blaming luck, either, but agreed he "felt like I pitched pretty well all game.

"Pretty frustrated," he said. "They have a good lineup, and I felt like I pretty much dominated them for 6 2/3 (innings), and then Moreland just hit a homer. ... To be pitching pretty well for 6 2/3 innings and then that to happen was pretty frustrating."

Home runs continue to plague Griffin, who leads the majors with 28 allowed in his 23 starts. Twenty of them have been solo homers, which both Melvin and Norris pointed out, and Norris argued that while the number stands out, there's not much difference between a solo home run and back-to-back doubles.

Griffin has given up two home runs in each of his last four starts and his 28 total, with nearly two months remaining, is already the most an A's pitcher has allowed since Dan Haren gave up 31 in 2006. He said he doesn't pitch with that number in his head, though -- if he did, he'd likely be nibbling more and issuing more walks.

"It's not a concern, it's just two pitches every game," Griffin said. "We were pretty close. Nate made a good effort on that pop-up foul, and Gentry just tapped that changeup down and away. We could've easily been out of that inning. But it's baseball."

* See what happens when the A's don't unleash their bunting attack? All right, that's a stretch. But after small ball-ing their way to a win Saturday, the A's didn't get much of anything going against Holland, managing three singles -- two by Freiman -- through the first seven innings.

"Holland pitched really well -- probably the best we've seen him pitch in a while," said Melvin. "And he had a good zone for him -- inside to a righty was there for him, which makes the changeup (away) really tough to deal with when you feel like you have to cover inside."

Norris agreed it seemed like Holland took advantage of an ample zone that allowed him to work inside effectively to the A's right-handed lineup.

"He was pounding the ball in, not letting us get extended," Norris said. "There was a time or two we thought he had a decent-sized strike zone today, which is not a knock on him. ... He kept the ball down, kept the ball in, which doesn't let get extended on it."

Holland hasn't lost to the A's since his first career start against them on Aug. 4, 2009. In nine starts since then, he's 5-0 with a 2.25 ERA in 56 innings.

* In the grand scheme of things, the A's went totally hitless in two games with runners in scoring position this weekend, got out-homered 5-1, but finished the weekend losing only one game off their lead in the A.L. West. The Rangers have won four of five while the A's have lost four of five, and Oakland's lead is now down to 2 ½ games. But even on Aug. 4, Melvin said before the game it's still too early to start watching the standings.

"When you're in first place the last thing you want to do is try to hold your lead," Melvin said. "You have to play like you're catching up.

"We have to come in and be real aggressive, and really not get caught up in the standings. We are in a better position, but that doesn't guarantee anything. We were in a worse position last year and ended up winning."

The teams next meet in early September, at which time it'll be interesting to see how much has changed in what sure looks like another two-team race in the West. For now, the A's head off to Cincinnati for a two-game series against the Reds. The probables:

Tuesday: RHP Dan Straily (6-5, 4.41) vs. RHP Mat Latos (10-3, 3.38)
Wednesday: RHP Bartolo Colon (14-3, 2.50) vs. RHP Homer Bailey (6-10, 3.55)

-- 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.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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