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Weirdness continues for A’s starter Sonny Gray vs. Mariners

Sonny Gray says he's feeling good, but the results have been, in his words a little weird.

Sonny Gray says he’s feeling good, but the results have been, in his words, “really weird.”

It says something that Sonny Gray gave up seven earned runs in seven-plus innings Tuesday and said afterward “this was the best I felt this year.’’

What exactly it says is a little bit of a cypher. Gray has stumbled out of the starting blocks in 2016, going 3-3 with a 4.84 ERA in six starts.

That’s his highest ERA at any point in the three-plus seasons Gray has been a big league starting pitcher. And the seven earned runs matched his career high, set on Aug. 6, 2014 against the Rays and again on Sept. 14, 2015 against the White Sox.

Tuesday night was, Gray said, “a weird game.’’

“You pitch into the eighth inning and you come out with a bad start,’’ Gray said. “It’s a really weird game tonight.

“I thought I threw the ball well. That’s definitely the best I’ve felt all year. It was really unfortunate the way it turned out.’’

The A’s were more-or-less within striking distance after seven innings, down 4-1. But the Mariners opened the eighth with a double and two singles, knocking Gray out of the game. And reliever Marc Rzepczynski was clobbered Kyle Seager, who took all the mystery out of the game with a three-run homer.

“It’s important to get to the eighth inning,’’ Gray said. “But you look back, and I didn’t really do my job. I didn’t put us in with a good chance to win. Pitching into the eighth is good and all, but not when you give up seven runs. It’s just a weird game.’’

The early homers were something of an anomaly. Gray hadn’t given up more than one homer in a game in eight consecutive starts dating back to last year, when he allowed 17 in the entire season. He’s allowed five with five months of the season yet to play.

“I hung a curveball a little in, and he turned on it,’’ Gray said in describing the first homer from Leonys Martin in the second inning. Robinson Cano went deep to open the third.

“The second one, I had a feeling he was going to swing. I left it up, and he got it. I felt great. They got those two big home runs, then they added on in the eighth.

In my other starts, I was a little sporadic with location and I was not throwing strikes. Tonight I felt great. I didn’t feel any different than I felt the previous two years. It’s just not really going my way.’’

 

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A’s Khris Davis switches sides of plate in quest to get going

Khris Davis is going to extremes to get his offensive game going for A's.

Khris Davis is going to extremes to get his offensive game going for A’s.

More than four hours before the first pitch in the Coliseum Friday, Khris Davis was giving the A’s a new look.

He was in the batting cage at home plate, but the right-handed batter was in the left-handed batter’s box as batting coach Darren Bush was flipping baseballs to him from behind a screen about 15 feet away.

Davis was taking his right-handed swing, so that the end of his bat was just inches from the netting of the batting cage. He had pitch after pitch flipped to him, and Davis worked on keeping from extending too much and tried to deliver a short but powerful swing.

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Rodriguez’s big fifth inning sets up later A’s heroics; Reddick glad to have gotten first homer out of the way

Although he got neither win nor save, Fernando Rodriguez got the two biggest outs of the game Friday in Seattle.

Although he got neither win nor save, Fernando Rodriguez got the two biggest outs of the game Friday in Seattle.

The way baseball is, the way the media is and the way fans are, most of what will be written about and talked about the Oakland bullpen this year will fall on Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson.

And for legitimate reasons – they pitch the final two innings, and the final two innings is often where a game is won or lost.

On Friday, the game was decided, to a large degree, anyway, in the fifth inning. Manager Bob Melvin went to the pen for Fernando Rodriguez with one out and men on first and third after the second of two Jed Lowrie errors had put starter Eric Surkamp in a bind. The manager had just a very few words for Rodriguez.

“He told me to keep the ball and we’d get me a double play,’’ Rodriguez said. It couldn’t have played out much better. The infield was in a severe shift with cleanup hitter Nelson Cruz at the plate. Rodriguez kept the ball down. Cruz slashed a grounder to shortstop Marcus Semien. The double play was on.

As a whole, the Oakland bullpen threw 4.2 innings of scoreless ball Friday. As a group, the relievers will attest the 1.2 innings turned in by Rodriguez midgame were the hardest to come by.

“I did that role last year,’’ Ryan Madson said. He began the season in Kansas City pitching in middle relief, although by season’s end he was pitching at the end of the game for the World Series champions. “It can be easy to overlook. But what he did tonight was not easy.’’

Surkamp said the double play grounder that Rodriguez got was “the big moment in the game, at least up to’’ Chris Coghlan’s homer to win it in the ninth.

“If the Mariners could have snuck one more run there, it would have been tough for us,’’ Surkamp said. “But when we turned that double play, we changed the game’s momentum.’’

The bullpen had another surprise. Melvin had closer Sean Doolittle throw the eighth inning and his usual eighth-inning man, Madson, pitch the ninth. The idea was to have Doolittle, a lefty, face the two most potent lefties in the Seattle lineup, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.

They were due up in the eighth inning and Melvin said Doolittle told him he knew he’d be pitching the eighth because of the matchups. And it worked. Cano, who’d homered four times in his first three games, hit a routine fly to left and Seager popped out to center.

“I kind of flipped eight, nine because of the lefties,’’ Melvin said. “But for tonight, Fernando was the star.  He’s the one coming it with traffic out there. And that’s the toughest role.

“The farther you go in the game obviously, you see the guys who are considered your stars as far as the bullpen goes, but for me that guy who comes in with guys on base and picks up the starter, he probably has the toughest job.’’

 

–When Josh Reddick got into the A’s lineup last year, the season was already a week old. He’d been held back because of injuries, and almost immediately he started feeling the pinch. He wanted to go deep and get that first home run out of the way.

It didn’t happen for about a week after his return, and Oakland’s season was 12 days old before Reddick would go deep for the first of 20 times.

On Friday he hammered his first homer in Game 5. It came as a relief.

“It’s always good to get that first one,’’ he said. “The last thing you want to do is to be thinking about when it might come.’’

 

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A’s have nothing but respect for new-look Mariners

Felix Hernandez leads a Mariners' team that is the best it's been in a decade.

Felix Hernandez leads a Mariners’ team that is the best it’s been in a decade.

Once the A’s prime competition in the American League West came from Southern California.

Now with the Angels having steamrolled the West while Oakland slumped, the A’s must look to the Pacific Northwest, where the Seattle Mariners would like nothing better than to knock the A’s out of the Wild Card race.

The A’s and Mariners play three games this weekend in Safeco Field.

And while the Mariners haven’t seen the post-season since the world was young, the A’s are facing a team that could either join them in the Wild Card game or knock Oakland out of it.

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Generalissimo Y takes center stage in Oakland

It’s way too early to know if there is a new Mr. October on Oakland’s horizon, but it’s at least worth keeping an eye on the A’s Yoenis Cespedes this month.

In Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Tigers Friday, the A’s left fielder shrugged off the effects of a sore right shoulder to triple and hit a two-run homer, producing the only runs the A’s scored in a 3-2 loss.

He came back Saturday with a pair of singles, the second of which touched off the winning rally that culminated with Cespedes scoring from third base on Stephen Vogt’s bases-loaded single for a 1-0 win.

Those were the sixth and seventh games in Cespedes’ admittedly short post-season career. But they are built upon a base that has the chance to be molded into a towering legacy in baseball’s center stage month. He’s the personification of Generation Y in Oakland. Call him Generalissimo Y.

He’s hit in all seven games while averaging .370 with an OPS of 1.006. Small sample size or not, those are impressive numbers.

There are some players who are just built for the spotlight, and Cespedes seems to be one of those. He floundered most of the year, but when there was a chance that the A’s might not make the playoffs, Cespedes shrugged off September shoulder issues to average .314 with six homers. For a little perspective, his best average in the five previous months was July’s .237.

In his first September pennant drive in 2012, he had season monthly best of seven homers and 19 RBIs as the A’s chased down the Rangers.

There are some classically great hitters who have wilted on the big stage. Just last year Robinson Cano of the Yankees was a woeful 3-for-40. A’s RBI machine Miguel Tejada was 2-for-23 after having racked up 70 extra base hits and 106 RBIs in the 2003 season. Manny Ramirez drove in 165 runs in the 1998 season for the Indians, then went 1-for-18 in the playoffs.

Not to tell A’s manager Bob Melvin how to work his lineup, but he’d be well advised to support Cespedes by keeping Seth Smith in the lineup as the DH for the next few games. Smith had two hits Saturday, both following Cespedes hits and the second setting up the winning run, and Cespedes could use the threat of a hot, productive bat behind him to get better pitches to hit.

All Smith did was hit .393 in September, even when he couldn’t get in the lineup every day. He only played in 15 games and started just seven of those, but .393 is .393, and is going to get respect from the other side. That can only help Cespedes.

(Not that it particularly means anything, but while writing this I went back and looked up what A’s starters did when Smith was hitting behind them during his September hot streak. They went 12-for-23, .522. Add in Cespedes on Saturday and it’s 14-for-27, .518).

Whatever the A’s can do to get Cespedes to get better pitches to hit is a terrific idea.

After all, it’s October. It’s the Generalissimo’s time.

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Game 91 wrapup: Cespedes wants to `bring the win’ in Home Run Derby; Gallego to sub for Melvin (and mom) as batting practice thrower

There will be no pressure on Yoenis Cespedes Monday night as he takes part in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby.

No pressure from first baseman Brandon Moss, who said after Tuesday’s game “if he doesn’t win the Home Run Derby, I’m going to be disappointed.’’

No pressure from manager Bob Melvin, who is Cespedes’s favorite batting practice pitcher but who is bowing out of making a quick cross-country jaunt to New York City.

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