Defense, pitching elude A's in loss to O's

May 2nd, 2021

OAKLAND -- The only way to overcome an offensive slump such as the one the A’s are currently dealing with is to play sound baseball in all other aspects of the game -- pitching and defense.

Both of those aspects lacked efficiency on Saturday afternoon.

In an 8-4 loss to the Orioles, recent frustrations from an A’s offense that has struggled to produce seemed to carry over to other areas of the club. Two costly third-inning errors by a typically sure-handed defense led to Baltimore tacking on six runs against lefty Jesús Luzardo in the frame, sinking the A’s to their fifth defeat in their last seven games.

DJ Stewart led off the big inning for the Orioles by reaching on a ball that was mishandled by Seth Brown, who got the start at first base on Saturday as two-time Gold Glove Award winner Matt Olson continued to sit with a swollen left eye. After loading the bases, a disastrous sequence by the A’s defense led to three runs scoring on a single when Matt Chapman cut off a throw from Tony Kemp in left field and misfired a throw that sailed toward the Coliseum’s left-field bullpen.

Luzardo went on to hurt himself a couple of times with a pair of wild pitches, the second of which scored the sixth run of the inning. Of the six runs, the left-hander was charged with three earned.

“It was an ugly inning,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Over the last few years, we’ve been a really good defensive team. We did not show it that inning. It happens from time to time. But it doesn’t mean we feel good about it.”

Recording their first hit against Orioles starter Matt Harvey in the fifth inning, it wasn’t until Stewart’s two-run homer in the sixth that an A’s offense that entered the day batting .176 over its last six games finally started chipping away at the sizable 8-0 deficit.

A pair of RBI hits by Brown and Kemp were followed up by a solo homer in the seventh by Mark Canha, while Ramón Laureano added an extra run with a two-out solo shot in the ninth.

It’s no secret the A’s -- whose 35 homers are third most in the AL -- are a team that relies heavily on the home run. They’re at their best when they’re hitting bombs. In fact, prior to this loss in which they out-homered the Orioles, 2-1, the A’s were 13-0 when hitting more long balls than the opposition in games this season. But sometimes, a little dose of "small ball" can be a remedy for an offense to get going again.

They showed they can manufacture runs in other ways during their 13-game winning streak earlier this season, so the ability is there. But it was absent on Saturday, as they went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base.

“The really good teams are going to find ways to win games without having to use [home runs],” Melvin said. “Good pitching, good defense and getting some timely hits. We’ve done that in the stretch where we won 13 in a row. Last few days, we haven’t been as good.”

For Luzardo, inconsistency remains the main impediment in his maturation into what the A’s believe can be an ace-like pitcher. The 23-year-old lefty continued to flash the tantalizing stuff on Saturday -- his fastball topped out at 98.2 mph. Where he ran into trouble was his tendency to fall behind in the count to Orioles hitters.

Of his 16 batters faced, Luzardo only threw six first-pitch strikes. Though he has the electric repertoire to pitch around such issues, giving advantageous counts to hitters so frequently will eventually come back to bite any pitcher.

“First-pitch strikes had been the key for me the last two starts and today, they weren’t,” Luzardo said. “That’s a big key for me, just getting ahead of guys and being able to throw both my offspeed pitches for strikes. I know I can throw my changeup for a strike whenever. The slider was on and off today. Usually, I have it early. It was just a frustrating outing.”

With Luzardo having begun the game by issuing a walk to Cedric Mullins, Melvin said he sensed early that Luzardo did not have his best command. Throwing just 34 of his 64 pitches for strikes, he decided to pull the plug out the outing after three innings following a heavy workload in the 35-pitch third. Allowing six runs (three earned) on five hits and two walks, his ERA raised to 5.79.

“It’s just about getting more consistency,” Melvin said. “He’ll have a good outing and then a tough one. Kind of typical with younger guys at times. This one, as far as his command, just got away from him today. We hadn’t seen that.”