A's hope Laureano provides much-needed spark

May 8th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- The passion with which Ramón Laureano plays baseball has always been evident when he takes the field for the A’s. That’s why the past nine months have felt like an eternity for him.

Suspended for 80 games by MLB on Aug. 6, 2021 after testing positive for Nandrolone, a performance-enhancing substance banned under the league’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, Laureano missed being able to take part in the game that he loves. On Sunday, 275 days later, he rejoined the A’s, finishing 0-for-4 at the plate as he batted leadoff and played right field in a 4-3 loss against the Twins.

Laureano maintains that he unknowingly ingested the banned substance, referring reporters to the statement he released shortly after the suspension was announced.

“I put that statement out when it happened and I stand behind it,” Laureano said prior to Sunday’s game. “I know what happened. I know who I am. Everybody knows who I am, so I’m not worried about it.”

Laureano remains a beloved figure amongst his teammates. The outfielder entered the visiting clubhouse at Target Field and was immediately welcomed back with open arms.

“I was really happy to see his face today,” said A’s starter Daulton Jefferies, who allowed four runs on seven hits with three strikeouts across five innings. “On the field and in the locker room, the guy’s a spark plug. We’re very thankful to have him back.”

His return also came at a time the A’s could really use a boost. Entering Sunday in the midst of a season-worst losing streak, Oakland’s offense ranked last in the American League in team batting average (.200) and last in the Major Leagues in on-base percentage (.265) through 27 games.

The fiery energy displayed by Laureano as a star on recent successful A’s teams has certainly provided a spark in the past. While his numbers over a 10-game rehab stint with Triple-A Las Vegas in preparation of his return weren’t eye-popping -- he batted .135 with two doubles, two RBIs, two stolen bases and five walks -- Laureano said he found his rhythm at the plate over the final two games of his Minor League assignment.

“It felt weird at the beginning,” Laureano said of playing in the Minors. “But I felt good and got my mind in the right place the last two games down there. It’s been a long way. I’m very excited to help this team compete and get better.”

The A’s bats did break out early on in Sunday’s contest with Laureano back at the top of the lineup, scoring three runs on six hits through the first three innings. However, that surge was brief. After Seth Brown’s two-run single in the third, the A’s went hitless all the way until the ninth, when Christian Bethancourt singled off Twins reliever Emilio Pagán to move the possible tying run that was ultimately stranded into scoring position.

Swept over three games by Minnesota, the A’s have now dropped nine in a row for the first time since 2012 and have lost 12 of their last 14. Each game of the sweep saw the A’s enter the ninth inning trailing by only one run. Each time, they strung together a rally that came up one play short. Sunday, it was a flare into shallow center by Cristian Pache with runners on second and third that was tracked down by Twins second baseman Jorge Polanco to end the game, leaving Laureano on deck.

Clearly, the A’s need that one big hit in a late-game situation to get them going. How do they go about attaining that elusive clutch knock?

“It’s guys going up and continuing off the momentum of the at-bats,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “We’re getting guys on, we’re just not getting guys in late in the game. We’ve got to do a better job offensively about that.”

Tough times like these can often test a young ballclub’s spirit. There’s no question this rough stretch of games is taking a toll on these A’s. Heading into Detroit for a stretch of five games in four days against the Tigers, though, spirits remain high inside the clubhouse, with a sense that a breakthrough is coming soon.

“I think everybody is frustrated,” Brown said. “Everybody is pushing and wanting to win. It’s one of those things where we’re going through it. In baseball, it always comes back around. Everybody has done a good job of staying positive and going at it.”