A's 'run into a buzzsaw' vs. Pivetta, Sox

July 18th, 2023

OAKLAND -- With Tyler Soderstrom and Zack Gelof -- the A’s top two position-player prospects -- joining the club in its return from the All-Star break, the offense appeared to be gaining steam over the first three games of the second half. On Monday night, however, that momentum came to a screeching halt.

In a 7-0 loss to the Red Sox at the Coliseum, Oakland was held to one hit and five baserunners in nine innings. That lone single came off the bat of Ryan Noda in the first inning.

Throughout baseball, certain pitchers can seem to have a specific team’s number. For the A’s, Nick Pivetta falls into that category. Following Boston opener Brennan Bernardino out of the bullpen, the right-hander dominated A’s hitters through six hitless innings with a career-high 13 strikeouts -- setting a new Red Sox record for the most strikeouts in a single relief appearance in the process.

It was a bit of a deja vu feeling for the A’s, who struck out eight times in five innings against Pivetta at Fenway Park in the final series before the All-Star break. His run of dominance against them predates even that game, though. In five career games against the A’s, Pivetta is now 5-0 with a 0.82 ERA, having allowed just three earned runs in 33 innings.

Following an outing in which he tossed seven scoreless innings against the A’s in Oakland last season, Pivetta attributed part of his success to the Coliseum’s unique environment.

“It’s a good mound and there’s a lot of foul ground,” Pivetta said. “I’m a fly-ball pitcher, so there’s a lot of area on the outfield, and I just feel confident with my pitches. When I work in the zone, usually it allows me to get fly-ball outs.”

On Monday, Pivetta relied less on the foul ground and more on his ability to miss the bats of A’s hitters, whose 18 total strikeouts marked the team’s highest mark since July 23, 2021, at Seattle.

“I’d like to say [to our team] to just wash this game,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “Pivetta was good. We struggled with the same two pitchers in Boston. We came out tonight and Pivetta just dominated us, really. There’s no other way to really describe it. He got a ton of swing-and-miss.”

At one point, the A’s struck out seven consecutive times against Pivetta before JJ Bleday snapped the stretch with a one-out walk in the eighth.

“His fastball just seemed like it had really good life,” Kotsay said. “Breaking ball was good. That’s the best I’ve seen him. You run into a buzzsaw sometimes. Tonight seemed to be that night.”

Noda’s strikeout against Pivetta in the seventh was symbolic of the frustration that mounted up and down Oakland’s offense. After swinging through a well-placed fastball on the outside corner for strike three, Noda angrily swiped at the dirt with his bat before walking back to the dugout, which led to home plate umpire Emil Jimenez ejecting the first baseman from the game.

“He had all of his pitches working pretty well,” Noda said of Pivetta. “When a guy like that with a plus fastball and a big 12-6 [curveball] with a good slider to play off it has his stuff, he’s going to be pretty tough. I feel like we chased a little bit too much. For me especially, I wasn’t as aggressive in the zone as I should have been. … Sometimes you just have to tip your cap.”

The return from the All-Star break has not been ideal for the A’s. After getting swept over a tightly contested three-game set against the Twins over the weekend, Monday’s defeat marked Oakland’s eighth straight loss.

In addition to the offense going stagnant on Monday, Paul Blackburn also struggled on the mound, allowing six runs on nine hits and two walks with three strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings.

“We all want to just start getting hot,” Noda said. “I don’t think a lot of us have been that this year. We’re all just waiting. Everyone in here, pitching and hitting, has been grinding. That includes me. We’re just going to keep working. Keep coming back to the drawing board and get better. That’s how we’re going to get going.”