Given the A’s potent offense, a quality start by one of their starting pitchers is almost guaranteed to result in victory this season.
But on a night where Jesús Luzardo finished strong after early struggles, the A’s offense faltered late after a hot start in a 3-2 loss to the Rangers on Monday night at Globe Life Field. The loss marked just the fifth time this season Oakland has been held to two runs or fewer.
Olson’s strikeout brought frustration both to him and A’s manager Bob Melvin, who felt the first and third called strikes of the at-bat missed low.
“It looked like there were a few borderline pitches,” Melvin said. “We made [Montero] work and had the bases loaded. Olson was trying to get a good ball to drive. He’s our tallest hitter. I think there were few tough pitches on him that were called.”
The A’s lost on a night where Luzardo, the club’s No. 1 prospect in the MLB Pipeline rankings, righted the ship after allowing three runs through the first two innings. He matched a career high with seven strikeouts while pitching into the seventh inning for a second consecutive start. The left-hander retired nine batters in a row at one point, finishing with the longest outing of his career as he limited the Rangers to three runs on seven hits and two walks over 6 2/3 innings.
“They just kind of ambushed him early with some fastballs,” Melvin said. “He mixed his pitches better after that, and as the game went along, he got better and better.”
The slider was particularly filthy for Luzardo. Of his 96 pitches on the night, Luzardo threw the slider 30 times, generating 18 swinging strikes and five called strikes. All seven of his strikeouts were recorded on the slider, six of them swinging.
“That was definitely as good as I’ve felt with [the slider] this season. It just felt great coming out of my hand,” Luzardo said. “My last game, I got more of a feel for it. Today, it just felt polished.”
Said Melvin: “He’s got a pretty good slider. It looked like they were laying off it early. He stayed with it and got punchouts against lefties. He’s got three pitches, and it’s tough to think along with him. At times, you have to guess. I think they were trying to get that fastball early off him.”
Though he was coming off an impressive performance of 6 1/3 shutout innings against the D-backs, Luzardo dubbed his outing Monday as his best start yet for his ability to bounce back from a rough first two innings. He pointed to an earlier start this season against the Giants where he struggled early and ended up allowing a career-high six earned runs as a learning experience to better handle the situation he found himself in on Sunday.
“I felt like this was my best game of my career,” Luzardo said. “When things got bad in the Giants game, things started to snowball. I was able to step back and not let it snowball. I just cut off at the second inning and moved on from there.”
Jumping on Rangers starter Lance Lynn early with two runs through the first two innings, including a booming 416-foot solo shot by Stephen Piscotty to lead off the second, the A’s appeared primed for another big night on offense. Instead, they scattered five hits and were shut out over the game’s final seven innings.
The off-night at the plate did not deter the A’s from the feeling they have at the halfway point of the season, still with an American League-best record of 20-10.
“I think we’re doing all the things right in the close games, just grinding,” A’s shortstop Marcus Semien said. “The batting averages don’t look great, but you look at the RBIs, runs scored, home runs, and we’ve done good things. Our pitching has been great. You look at our record and say we are where we should be. We just need to continue doing the little things right.”