OAKLAND -- The A’s might have a bullpen issue on their hands.
To expect a repeat of the near-flawless 2018 performance by the relief corps would be a stretch. But Lou Trivino was unable to preserve a one-run lead in the seventh inning of Friday night’s 3-2 loss -- the third consecutive game the A’s bullpen has struggled in the late innings. What was once the strength of the club -- the A’s were 70-2 when leading after seven innings last season -- is looking like more of a vulnerability through the first two months of the season.
After cruising through six scoreless innings, starter Mike Fiers surrendered a solo home run to Josh Reddick in the seventh and was pulled with two outs in the inning after issuing a walk to Tyler White. A’s manager Bob Melvin summoned Trivino from the bullpen, and the right-hander immediately lost the lead as Tony Kemp smashed a double to left. One inning later, Trivino surrendered a go-ahead solo homer to Derek Fisher.
Trivino picked up a loss for a second straight game, following an ugly five-run 11th inning in Wednesday’s loss to the Angels.
“I’m just not feeling good with my delivery. Just a little off right now,” Trivino said. “My fastball doesn’t have much life to it and I’m giving them good pitches to hit. It’s frustrating.”
It’s a similar issue to the one Trivino dealt with last year. After a stellar first four months into his rookie campaign, Trivino stumbled to the finish line, posting an 8.00 ERA in September before regaining his stuff just in time for the postseason, when he tossed three scoreless innings against the Yankees in the American League Wild Card Game.
The velocity on Trivino’s fastball is still strong, but the movement doesn’t seem to be there. His fastball to Fisher on the home run was clocked at 97 mph, but stayed high enough in the lower part of the zone for Fisher to golf it out. When Trivino is at his best, that pitch usually sinks lower at the last second.
“You’re going to have stretches when you’re struggling. It’s about limiting those stretches,” Trivino said. “Last year I started off hot and then kind of cooled down in August and September. I’m hoping to limit this stretch right now.”
Trivino has been at the forefront of the recent bullpen struggles, but he’s not the only one trying to find his way right now. Closer Blake Treinen was also unable to preserve a tie in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s loss, as was Joakim Soria the night before.
Few bullpens were better than Oakland’s in 2018. But after posting the third-lowest ERA in the Majors (3.37) last year, that bullpen ERA is now up to 4.11 in 2019. A’s relievers have also combined to blow 11 saves this season, most in the AL.
It’s a rough patch, but given the track record, one the A’s don’t expect to last much longer.
“I’ve seen too many times them come in and get the job done. We’re not worried,” Fiers said. “But these games you’ve got to lock down, especially late in the game against a team like that. You can’t give them too much. If we want to win the division, we have to win those games.”
Matt Chapman got the A’s on the board in the third when he smashed an 0-2 fastball from Astros starter Brad Peacock over the wall in left for a two-run shot.
Fiers keeps rolling
For a seventh consecutive start, Fiers allowed three runs or fewer, looking more like the pitcher the A’s expected when they declared him their No. 1 starter in Spring Training.
“I’m back to how I throw the ball so it just feels like another day out there,” Fiers said. “It feels like I’m pitching and I’m myself. Not doing anything different, just changing speeds and trying to keep them off balance.”
That strong stretch by Fiers includes his May 7 no-hitter against the Reds.
“I think anytime you throw a no-hitter, you’re going to gain some confidence from that,” Melvin said. “He’s been pretty consistent here as the season has gone along and is a great example of a guy that’s not a max effort guy. That allows him to maintain himself the whole season. Seems like he’s getting stronger.”
What could have been
With Ramon Laureano on third base and only one out, Marcus Semien smashed a ground ball that appeared ticketed for an RBI single to left field until Astros shortstop Jack Mayfield dove for a sensational diving stop. Mayfield threw Semien out at first and prevented Laureano from scoring what would have been the go-ahead run in the seventh.
“That was a key play,” Melvin said. “They made a couple of key plays. Kemp made a key play at second on a ground ball up the middle and when you get in close games late, defensive plays end up being huge. They had a couple.”