A faint sense of optimism surrounded the A’s last week. They had just won three of four games in consecutive series from the Angels and Giants. Josh Reddick and Rich Hill, their best starting pitcher during the first half of this season, had just returned from a broken thumb from strained groin, respectively.
Against their cross-bay rivals in particular, the A’s played like a team determined to put a disappointing first half behind them. But Game 82 on Sunday, numerically the opening of their season’s second half, only brought more frustration and another round of injuries.
The A’s lost 6-3 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, failing to hold leads of 2-0 and 3-2, and were swept in a three-game series at the Coliseum. It was the A’s fourth consecutive loss and dropped them back to 12 games under .500 as they left for their final trip before the All-Star break, to Minnesota and Houston.
“We felt like with the Angels series and the Giants series, we were on our way to playing a lot better,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “And then we got derailed this series.”
Melvin denied that the A’s experienced a letdown after the Giants series, in which Oakland scored 34 runs and played in front of sellout crowds in three of four games. He attributed the A’s inconsistency this season to injuries.
“You get to a point where you feel like OK, now we have our guys back, we can get on a roll,” Melvin said. “We played two good series, and then we have more injuries. So it’s frustrating, but no more for me than anybody else.”
Before Sunday’s game, the A’s put catcher Josh Phegley on the 15-day disabled list because of a right knee strain and called up Triple-A catcher Matt McBride, who started against the Pirates. Phegley gave the A’s nine players on the DL – and they may soon have another.
Reliever Fernando Rodriguez left Sunday’s game in the eighth inning because of a right shoulder strain. Rodriguez seemed to feel discomfort after throwing a pitch to Jordy Mercer and motioned toward the dugout. Melvin and a trainer visited the mound, and Rodriguez departed after a brief conversation.
Melvin said Rodriguez was having an MRI after the game and the DL is possible.
The A’s trailed 4-3 at that point despite building two early leads for starter Daniel Mengden, who allowed four earned runs for the first time in five major-league starts. After Rodriguez’s exit, John Axford came in cold from the bullpen and surrendered two runs on three hits, including a two-run homer by David Freese, in 2/3 of an inning.
Oakland had squandered several scoring chances to that point. The A’s put men on second and third with one out in the fifth, but Josh Reddick flied out to left field, too shallow to score a run, and Danny Valencia flied out.
With runners on first and third in the sixth, the A’s sent up Stephen Vogt to pinch-hit against right-handed reliever A.J. Schugel. Vogt stung a line drive to first baseman Freese, who stepped on first to complete an easy double play with Jake Smolinski running on the full-count pitch.
In the seventh, singles by Tyler Ladendorf and Coco Crisp gave the A’s runners on first and third with nobody out. But Marcus Semien struck out, Reddick popped out in the infield, and Valencia struck out. As Reddick’s popup hovered over the infield, he slammed his bat to the ground in disgust.
“Back-to-back at-bats, less than two outs and runners in scoring position, I’ve got to do a better job of at least getting one of those runners in, if not all of them,” Reddick said. “It’s a big part of the game.”
Mengden held the Pirates scoreless for four innings before allowing a bases-loaded, two-run single to Gregory Polanco in the fifth. After issuing a leadoff walk in the sixth, Mengden induced a potential double-play grounder by Josh Harrison, but second baseman Ladendorf’s relay throw pulled first baseman Billy Butler off the bag.
Adam Frazier followed with a triple to score Harrison and later scored when Erik Kratz hit a chopper that deflected off Mengden’s glove for an infield single. Kratz was the last hitter Mengden faced and gave the lead to the Pirates, who recorded their first sweep of the A’s.
“We’ve been playing good baseball, and I think this series we just didn’t execute on both sides of the ball,” Mengden said. “We didn’t pitch very well when we needed to, and then when we had chances to score, we didn’t score. Things weren’t going our way this series.”