There’s only so much Sean Doolittle to go around. Manager Bob Melvin has to pick his spot, depending upon the situation. On Wednesday, Doolittle was targeted to pitch the ninth inning for the A’s.
That left the eighth inning to Fernando Abad and Luke Gregerson. By the time the inning ended, the White Sox had turned a one-run deficit into a two-run lead off Abad and Gregerson.
As it turned out, Melvin never got a chance to summon relief ace Doolittle as the White Sox closed out the 4-2 victory and avoided a three-game sweep at the hands of the A’s.
The A’s lost for the first time in a week, when they dropped the first game of a doubleheader against the Seattle Mariners.
In the process, their lead over the Anaheim Angels slipped to three games. Afterward, the A’s packed for a flight to Cleveland for a three-game series against the Indians that starts Friday.
Oakland’s season-high six-game win streak ended in what has become an all too familiar fashion the first quarter of this season.
The A’s lost for the fifth time in only 41 games when they led after seven innings this season. They had six such losses all last season.
“It’s a tough game,” Gregerson said. “It’s funny, you can get any guys out at certain times. Sometimes you make great pitches and a guy hits a ball.”
In this case, White Sox slugger Jose Abreu blasted a Gregerson fastball off the façade of the second deck in left field for a game-deciding, three-run home run.
Melvin is quick to defend his relievers and even quicker to give Abreu credit for pouncing on a pitch that strayed from the desired location.
“He got a pitch in the middle of the plate to a really good hitter who’s hot,” Melvin said.
All series long, A’s pitchers worked inside to Abreu in an attempt to keep him from getting his arms extended and making solid contact.
Starter Tommy Milone struck out Abreu twice and induced a fly ball to center. Gregerson tried the same approach, with runners on first and third and one out.
It worked well the first pitch. Abreu turned on the second pitch and launched it over the fence for his majors-leading 15th home run.
“He’s something special, it seems like,” Milone said. “Any mistake you throw to him, it seems like he’s going to hit a home run. He’s just one of those guys you got to be real careful.”
Abreu is only the fourth player in major league history with as many as 15 home runs in his first 42 games.
“You try to throw him pitches that aren’t around the strike zone and make him fish, which he definitely does,” Gregerson said. “I don’t think it necessarily was a bad pitch. It was just something he was ready for, he was looking for it.
“We’ve been doing it to him the whole series, pound him in. It just stayed up a little too much. Any other day it could be a ground out to third base, we get a double play.”
Gregerson’s blown save is the eighth of the season for the A’s relievers. That is tied with the Houston Astros for most in the league.
The blown save also cost Milone a shot at his second win of the season. Milone allowed a home run on his first pitch of the game, but he pitched six innings without further damage.
Milone settled down after his initial hiccup and picked up where he left off in his previous start, when he held the Washington Nationals to no runs and five base runners over eight innings May 9.
“Tommy the last two times out has been as good as we’ve seen him over the last couple of years,” Melvin said.
Milone credited his recent success an adjustment in the way he pitches batters.
“I’m just trying to keep them off-balance and not be so predictable,” Milone said. “I know teams know me by now, they know I throw the changeup a lot, so I’m trying to use my fastball as much as possible”
— Center fielder and leadoff hitter Coco Crisp missed his seventh straight game with a sore neck. Melvin said there’s a strong chance that Crisp makes it back Friday.
— It’s not uncommon for A’s hitters such as Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick, Jed Lowrie and Cespedes to face an exaggerated shift when they bat.
It’s part of a growing trend in baseball, where teams amass data on players across the league, look for tendencies and align the defense accordingly.
“Last year, there’s some statistics to back up that we were one of the most successful teams with the shift last year,” Melvin said. “So, we continue to do it. We don’t overdo it. We feel like we do it on the guys that we need to.”
There’s a flip side, of course. How best to cope with teams employing a shift against the A’s hitters.
Of late, the A’s have used bunting and off-field hitting as a means of trying to “get the field back in your favor,” Melvin said.
That helps, Melvin said, but it’s not an antidote.
“As far as the shifting goes, it’s here to stay because there’s so much information now, data that would suggest if you put a guy in the right spot for a certain guy,” Melvin said.
— Third baseman Josh Donaldson returned to the starting lineup, batting third, after receiving the night off Tuesday. He hit his team-high ninth home run leading off the fourth.
— Gordon Beckham led off the game with a home run for the White Sox. John Jaso led off the bottom of the first with a home run of his own. The last time A’s and their opponent had players lead off a game with home runs came Aug. 30, 2002, when Jacque Jones did it for the Minnesota Twins and Ray Durham for A’s.