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August 3, 2013
Milone roughed up in A's 8-3 loss; Rangers narrow the gap

OAKLAND -- The A's, who used the home run to fuel their second-half surge last year, have taken on a different sort of offensive identity this season. They're 10th in the league in home runs (109), relying more on timely hitting to back up a pitching staff that began Friday with the A.L.'s lowest ERA.

So when they have games like the last two -- in which they're a combined 1-for-19 with runners in scoring position, stranding 20 runners total -- it's tough to overcome. That's especially the case when the team on the other side is flexing its power like the A's of 2010 2012, as the Texas Rangers did in an 8-3 win on Friday night.

The Rangers were 3-for-9 with runners in scoring position but hit two two-run home runs off Tommy Milone while building a 6-3 lead through the first four innings. Texas starter Alexi Ogando allowed a career-high five walks, threw 60 pitches in the first two innings, and still left after four innings with a three-run lead.

"I felt like we were having good at-bats, we were making him work, but even though he was getting into trouble and getting his pitch count up ... he was still able to get outs," A's first baseman Brandon Moss said.

"I don't think he had many strikeouts, so you can't say we weren't putting the ball in play. Once you put it in play, you can't control where it goes. Sometimes it happens."

Moss had the A's lone big hit -- a two-out, two-run double in the first inning that cashed in Ogando's first two walks. Otherwise the A's were limited to Coco Crisp's run-scoring double in the fourth, which bounced off of Nelson Cruz's glove in right field.

"(We) hit some balls hard too that we didn't get much to show for," manager Bob Melvin said. "There were some opportunities that we weren't able to cash in , and on the flipside they did in those opportunities. In games like that, that'll win you a game."

Moss pointed out that any of the A's hitters would've taken the night Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski had. Pierzynski drove in three runs on a pair of broken-bat singles.

"That's baseball," Moss said.

Soft contact or not, though, the runs all counted toward sending the A's to their third loss in a row, something that hadn't happened since they lost five straight from May 6-10. The Rangers, meanwhile, have won five consecutive games to narrow Oakland's lead in the West to 2 ½ games. It was six games a week ago.

Of course, earlier this season the Rangers had a seven-game lead in the West themselves. And last year, the A's were five out with nine to play before making up the difference on the last day of the season. So, Moss said, Aug. 2 is a little early to be standings-watching, though a more compelling number might be the 4-7 record the A's have this year against the Rangers.

"They've definitely had our number a little bit," Moss said. "We need to come out and win some games against them, get some confidence going and finish the homestand positively."

* Milone got through the first inning Friday on 10 pitches, all strikes, and made the one mistake to Cruz in the second inning on a 2-0 fastball that Cruz crushed over the wall in straightaway center.

"First inning I think it was all fastballs, and I was able to throw in and out, keep them off balance that way," Milone said. "From then on I just started leaving balls over the plate. They started putting it in play, getting hits, a couple big hits and it led to six runs."

The biggest were the home runs by Cruz and Jurickson Profar, which continued a slightly troubling trend for Milone. The left-hander has allowed 22 homers in 22 starts, including 18 to right-handers, which is the second-highest total in the majors behind C.C. Sabathia, who gave up his 19th on Friday.

Milone began Friday with the 11th-highest ratio of home runs allowed per nine innings in baseball since the start of last season, according to FanGraphs, and saw it increase to 1.28 with the two he allowed to the Rangers. Cruz's came on a 2-0 fastball, Profar's on a 1-2 pitch that was meant to be inside but caught too much of the plate.

"Obviously they're not something I want to be giving up all the time, but I know it's kind of on the radar," Milone said. "I think if they're mainly solo home runs, they won't hurt you as much, but tonight, two two-run home runs, that can definitely do some damage.

"For me, I'm pretty much a fly-ball pitcher, so it's going to happen. But yeah, I would definitely try to minimize those as much as I can."

According to FanGraphs, the rate of fly balls Milone is allowing that are leaving the park is actually lower than last season (10.5 percent, compared to 10.7 in 2012). But his fly ball rate is markedly up -- 46.1 percent this year, 37.3 last year. That's arguably not the worst way to pitch in a home park with the dead-zone reputation of the Coliseum -- and the majority of home runs Milone has allowed the last two years have come on the road -- but against a power-hitting club like the Rangers, it can be costly.

Milone sounded eager to move on from the outing Friday night and isn't one to dwell on a bad start. Several times this season he has impressed teammates and Melvin with his ability to work his way out of jams. Friday, he said, "I just couldn't make that big pitch."

* One of the A's notable missed opportunities came in the third, when Josh Donaldson batted with runners on the corners and one out and grounded into a double play. It was still early, but Donaldson slammed his helmet after crossing first base.

Donaldson reached base twice Friday on a solid single and a walk, but he still has yet to drive in a run since the All-Star Break, after entering the break with a team-high 61. The lack of timely hitting may be affecting the entire lineup over the past few days, but that's one hitter who was instrumental in making up for lackluster first halves from players like Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes, and the A's have come to rely on his production in the middle of the order.

* Reddick, by the way, had just the second three-walk game of his career. The first was earlier this season -- May 1 against the Angels. He led off two innings Friday night with walks and loaded the bases with two outs in another, but in only one of those innings did the A's score a run.

* Eric Sogard extended his career-best hitting streak to 10 games with a soft single in the ninth. He went 1-for-5 on Friday night, but is still hitting .359 (14-for-39) over those 10 games.

* Teams are a lot less willing to run on Reddick this year after his Gold Glove last season -- part of the reason he has just three outfield assists, compared to 15 last year. You'll still see Cespedes get tested, though, leading to plays like the last out of the top of the first.

Ian Kinsler hit a ball off the wall that looked like a sure double, only Cespedes bare-handed the carom off the left-field wall, spun and threw on the fly to Sogard in time to get Kinsler at second.

It was Cespedes' sixth assist in 73 games this season -- pretty close to his pace of nine in 102 games last year. Cespedes' arm is no secret at this point, and he had to play that ball pretty close to perfect to even have a play on Kinsler. Still, it says something that plays like that almost aren't surprising anymore.

* The Rangers, like the A's, stayed quiet at the trade deadline last week, but did make an acquisition earlier in the month in starting pitcher Matt Garza, who goes Saturday against A's right-hander Jarrod Parker.

Quick turnaround to that game, which is televised on FOX. First pitch at 1:05 p.m.

-- 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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