It wasn’t a very happy Easter for the Oakland Athletics, who were swept in a four-game series in their 2021 season home opener and enter their second series in last place, searching for their first win against the World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
The A’s (0-4) will face an even stronger lineup and some of the best pitchers in the league after a not-so-hot start on the mound and at the plate. Mark Canha has taken over the new A’s leadoff role and that is about the only positive takeaway after the series opener. A lot of injuries and high earned-run averages across the bullpen have made the chase to .500 feel a long way away, despite it being early.
The Dodgers (3-1) come off a series win against the Colorado Rockies where starter Trevor Baur threw six innings of no-hit ball. The A’s will face Dustin May, LHP Clayton Kershaw and Baur after not being able to land a single hit off Astros rookie pitcher Brandon Bielak on Sunday. Bielak made his MLB debut toward the end of last season, and the A’s will now have to face May and a couple of Cy Young pitchers.
Canha made a conscious effort two years ago to shrink the strike zone before his count reached two strikes. He has quickly shown he can succeed leading off despite never taking on the role in his major league career until this season. Canha said is not worried about the team starting the season 0-4:
“I think we have to just keep pushing. I don’t think there is any panic. That series had the feel of we are trying to feel out who we are. We have a different roster and a very different team then we had last year… nobody’s too down on themselves over what happened. It was bad, undoubtedly, it was not a good thing that happened but we know that. We also know we have a whole lot of baseball left so I think the mood in the clubhouse is steady Eddie.”
The A’s may be “steady Eddie” but their schedule only got harder overnight. They are last place in their division after the opening series and if they don’t get a win against the Dodgers or Astros in these next six games, they could potentially be 0-10 or 2-8. The chase to .500 already seems like a big climb no matter how early it is.
Bob Melvin is only focused on getting a win right now, and said it won’t be easy:
“Well, we are facing the world champions here, so it’s not like it got any easier but its just more about winning a game and relaxing a little bit. No one expected to lose the first four games of the series so it’s just about getting a win under our belt… it’s early in the season.”
The A’s have had to deal with multiple injuries from everyday players. Chad Pinder was placed on the 10-day IL on Monday due to a knee sprain. His MRI results have yet to come back but Melvin hopes it is only ten days. The A’s called up A.J. Puk to pitch out of the already dead bullpen. Ramon Laureano is day-to-day. Sean Murphy is starting his first game since he was pegged on Opening Day in the wrist and will help the A’s offense. Stephen Piscotty received a cortisone shot in spring training and the returning-everyday right fielder has only started in one game but Piscotty will start tomorrow.
Melvin said his lineups will have more to do with matchups:
“Maybe a little more targeted with lefties right now. On a full compliment, with Ramon [Laureano], Canha and the way Pinder was playing, we are trying to get Tom in there too against some right-handed pitchers. A little bit of a squeeze on Stephen at this point. We see a lefty tomorrow and he will be in there. And he showed up obviously in a pinch-hit situation the other day against a left-hander.”
Jed Lowrie is expected to play second base everyday. Tony Kemp had been filling in for Lowrie at second but with Pinder on IL, Kemp will be in the outfield. The A’s are running low on options and their big names are either injured or off to slow starts. Elvis Andrus and Matt Chapman, both coming off 2020 injuries, could use an off day but that option seems limited this early in the season.
The only depth the A’s have right now is giving Matt Olson an off day and having designated-hitter Mitch Moreland play first base. Olson is tied with Canha for the team lead in hits – four each – and the A’s can’t afford to take him out of the lineup. Olson and Canha are the only two fully-healthy players in the everyday lineup. Kemp and Ka’ai Tom are healthy bench options who should see the field more the first couple weeks of play while the team recovers from minor injuries.
The A’s will use Frankie Montas on Monday’s series opener against the Dodgers. Montas is eager to get his first start after arriving to spring training late due to Covid issues and then exiting a spring training outing early due to a fingernail issue. Melvin explained what he hopes to expect from Montas:
“We just need some results. We haven’t had a ton of results here. When he’s healthy and pitching well, he can dominate at times. We are just trying to get a good performance where a starter comes out with the lead and we try to follow it up with the bullpen and win a game.”
The A’s will need to make some adjustments at the plate. Maybe they can follow Canha’s approach at the plate:
“Early on in that series, in the first three games I didn’t hit that much but you still saw me get on base and stuff and that is the beauty of when I am doing that well, when I am controlling the strike zone well, whether I am swinging the bat well or not. I can get on base and still be somewhat productive so hopefully I can keep that going.”
The A’s bullpen has just three members with a 0.00 ERA — and one of them is a position player. Melvin made it clear the bullpen was beat up after the Astros series which led to Tom pitching a scoreless ninth. LHP Adam Kolarek was talked up all spring about how impossible it is for lefties to hit off him but he hasn’t been able to back it up in regular season.
The new bullpen additions have been the least promising. Former Dodger Kolarek’s ERA is 36.00 after one full inning in two appearances. He gave up five runs off four hits, two being homers. Reymin Guduan has pitched the ninth inning twice for Oakland and has a 31.50 ERA after giving up seven runs off six hits and three walks.
Jake Diekman has a 27.00 ERA in his 2/3 innings where he gave up two earned runs on three hits. Yusmiero Petit has thrown 2 1/3 innings and allowed three hits giving him 3.86 ERA. Burch Smith has only allowed one run in his three innings pitched. Lou Trivino has been the most promising so far, hence his 3-2/3 innings pitched being the most out of the bullpen. Trivino has only allowed a homer giving him a 2.45 ERA. Puk should be a fresh arm and key piece if he can pitch to his potential after coming off Tommy John surgery.
First pitch is set for Monday at 6:40 p.m. against the Dodgers.
Oakland A’s new closer Trevor Rosenthal has yet to throw a game and will see a doctor again on Monday.