OAKLAND – The A’s flashed promise in early April with a solid start that defied the low expectations placed on them for 2022. Their play over the past week, though, has been a reminder of the reality of the club’s situation.
The A’s knew there were bound to be growing pains as they entered a rebuilding phase following the loss of several star players this spring. Those troubles continued to pop up in Monday night’s 6-1 loss to the Rays at the Coliseum, which marked Oakland’s fourth straight defeat and seventh in its last nine contests.
Daulton Jefferies is one of the young arms who projects for a bright future. For now, the rookie right-hander is taking his lumps, tagged by Tampa Bay’s lineup for a career-high 11 hits and six runs allowed over five innings.
With only six career Major League starts under his belt, Jefferies is understanding of the process he must go through. This learning stage is about figuring out what works best for him. That’s why even though Monday’s start was a similar final line to his previous outing of five runs allowed over four innings against the Giants last week, Jefferies viewed both as stark contrasts.
Against San Francisco, Jefferies was most frustrated by his two walks issued, feeling that he shied away from who he is as a pitcher. On Monday, Jefferies did not issue a free pass, but felt he was perhaps overly aggressive in situations where he didn’t have to be. Examples of this could be found on his leadoff home run allowed to Yandy Díaz to begin the game and an RBI single from Mike Zunino in what was a two-run fourth inning for the Rays. Both hits came on favorable two-strike counts for Jefferies.
“I actually felt pretty good,” Jefferies said. “I felt like I was attacking and staying competitive in the zone. But when I got ahead, I tried to make it even more nasty instead of just focusing on executing the pitch and being smooth. That’s what I need to work on heading into the next outing.”
The silver lining for Jefferies is that he knows what to work on for his next outing, which will likely come this weekend in Minnesota. The objective is to find a balance between heavily attacking hitters and staying true to himself. Knowing his limitations and working with what type of stuff he has. When he’s done that, the results have been impressive, like his five-inning shutout of the Phillies during Oakland’s first regular-season series.
“I’ve gotta learn from the good performances and the bad ones,” Jefferies said. “I try to take positives from every outing. I threw some good sliders tonight and my mentality was better with attacking. I’m just trying to learn through every outing and make consistent starts for the ballclub.”
Defense and hitting are also areas that have seen a downward trend for the A’s after that early season success. With two more errors on Monday, they’ve now committed at least one error in 11 of the last 12 games for a total of 21 on the season.
Offensively, two hits was all the A’s could muster against starter Drew Rasmussen and the Rays’ bullpen. Striking out nine times on Monday, Kotsay maintains that the quality of at-bats being taken by his group of hitters remains high. However, going through a rough stretch in which two runs or fewer have been scored in nine of the past 13 games, Kotsay said it’s clear the offense might be trying to do too much at the plate right now.
“We’re in a bit of a funk,” said Kotsay. “Overall, as a group, a lot of guys are probably pressing. You still feel like they’re competing. It’s just we aren’t getting the results right now.”
Since Kotsay took over as manager last December, the first-year skipper has often described the culture he seeks to cultivate as one that embraces “the grit and the grind” that comes with being an Oakland A. For the first time in his managerial tenure, Kotsay is tasked with guiding his group of inexperienced players through a scuffle. It’s one he believes they can battle their way out of.
“They’re competing,” Kotsay said. “You get focused on results sometimes as a player and it’s really a grind. You’re gonna go through stretches like this where you don’t have success. You just have to keep grinding. Keep working and believe in the process.”