June 4, 2023

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A's still seeking balance of bats and bullpen

4 min read
Smith clubs grand slam, but 'pen falters late

OAKLAND — Given that Lou Trivino hadn’t pitched for the A’s in 16 days, manager Mark Kotsay was hoping to find a less stressful situation for the reliever to ease his way back. Of course, baseball does not always afford the chance for such perfectly laid plans.

After Kirby Snead blew a save opportunity against the Rays by surrendering a game-tying two-run home run to Mike Zunino in the ninth, Kotsay summoned Trivino with two outs in one of the most pressure-packed scenarios imaginable. The right-hander kept it tied by retiring Harold Ramirez for the final out of the inning, but things unraveled not too soon afterward, ultimately ending in a 10-7 loss to the Rays in 10 innings.

With the game heading to extra innings, Trivino went back out for the 10th and was promptly tagged for five runs in the span of six batters, recording just one out. The five-run deficit was far too much for the A’s, who pieced together a last-ditch two-run rally in the bottom of the inning before falling in their fifth straight defeat and eighth in the last 10 games.

“Bringing Lou in there to finish the ninth was a good matchup for him,” Kotsay said. “We felt good about him going back out. We talked about a softer landing spot. Not the easiest position to bring him in and keep him in. In that [10th] inning, I think he made some mistakes over the middle of the plate. Obviously, [Tampa Bay] is a good hitting team and capitalized.”

Trivino is not solely to blame for the loss. His presence in Tuesday’s game was only necessary due to Snead’s inability to finish off what was a two-run lead for Oakland entering the ninth.

Though Dany Jiménez had been filling the closer role in Trivino’s absence, Kotsay decided to play the matchups on Tuesday night. He opted to give the eighth inning to Jiménez, who quickly retired the trio of Yandy Díaz, Wander Franco and Randy Arozarena in order on 10 pitches. This set up Snead to face the pair of left-handed batters due up for Tampa Bay in the ninth.

The Rays countered Kotsay’s plan in the ninth by pinch-hitting for both of their upcoming lefties. Snead retired the first, Isaac Paredes, on a lineout. However, Zunino pinch-hit next, and faced three consecutive sliders from Snead, the third of which was driven over the high wall in left-center for a two-run blast to tie the game at 5-5.

For Snead, the two runs were the first he’d allowed since his first outing of the season on April 8, snapping a streak of seven straight scoreless appearances.

“Slider wasn’t as sharp today as previous outings,” Snead said. “I still tried to just make do with it. I threw a couple of good ones and then left one hanging, and he just hit it. That’s what he’s supposed to do.”

Going through a rough patch mostly caused by an offense unable to produce in big spots and shaky defense, the bullpen carrying the heaviest burden for Tuesday’s loss is a bit of a surprise. Entering the night, Oakland’s relief corps had converted seven of 10 save opportunities with a .169 opponents batting average that ranked second-lowest in the American League.

It wasn’t all bad in the bullpen though. Beginning with Zach Jackson, who took over with one out in the fifth after starter Paul Blackburn had allowed three runs on six hits and a walk with five strikeouts, A’s relievers went nearly perfect against the Rays up until the ninth. Jackson, A.J. Puk and Jiménez combined to hold Tampa Bay to one hit in 3 2/3 scoreless frames.

“We’ve been doing well, but tonight was one of those nights,” Snead said. “Zach, A.J. and Dany got off to a good start. But it’s just the way it goes sometimes. Baseball’s a weird game. Sometimes you feel great and get hit. Sometimes you feel bad and pitch well. We’re just going to keep moving forward.”

Despite the loss, an offense that entered the day having scored two runs or fewer in nine of the past 13 games did provide some reason for optimism about possibly escaping this slump. A five-run outburst in the first inning for the A’s was capped by Kevin Smith’s first career grand slam.

The seven-run, 10-hit performance followed a pregame hitters’ meeting in which the offensive unit discussed ways to get back to the success found over the first couple of weeks of the regular season.

“I feel like we have a few good at-bats and then we get guys in position and we just aren’t executing right now,” Smith said. “The first six, seven, eight games, we were doing unbelievable in those positions. It evens itself out. It’s only going to take a few guys. Someone is going to come through in a big situation late in a game and then we get rolling.”

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