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Oakland Athletics: A’s nearly no-hit by Tampa Bay as Sean Manaea struggles

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Oakland Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea in the first inning against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, April 15, 2018, at Safeco Field in Seattle, Wash. (Ken Lambert/Seattle Times/TNS)

OAKLAND — It was the top of sixth inning on Wednesday night when Oakland Athletics catcher Jonathan Lucroy’s throw went sailing into center field. The errant pitchout was the A’s fourth error of the evening — and that wasn’t even the worst of it.

At that point, Tampa Bay Rays starter Nathan Eovaldi — making his first appearance since Aug. 10, 2016 — was throwing a no-hitter. In his first start back from Tommy John surgery, Eovaldi didn’t allow a single hit for six innings.

Though ex-A’s pitcher Wilmer Font spoiled the no-hit bid, serving up a soft single to Jed Lowrie with a pair of outs in the seventh, that was the only base knock Oakland could muster in the 6-0 loss. It was the eighth time in the last nine games in which the A’s have scored three runs or fewer.

In nine games without designated hitter Khris Davis, Oakland has dropped to .500 (28-28), averaged just 1.67 runs per game and hit just .155.

“We’re struggling,” manager Bob Melvin said. “And it gets contagious and we’re going through a bad spell right now. But, you’re never as bad as you are when it sees like it’s your worst. You’re never at your best when things are going great.”

Sean Manaea’s unfortunate May ended in fitting fashion. After allowing five earned runs in his first six starts of 2018, the left-hander closed the month with 25 earned runs in his last six outings.

Manaea went off the rails in the third, drilling CJ Cron to begin the frame. Two batters later, Rob Refsnyder put a three-run homer beyond the jagged edge in right-center field, just below the big red State Farm banner. Entering the evening, the light-hitting left fielder carried a .321 slugging percentage.

The inning also featured a Chad Pinder error — one of his two on the night — and another hit batter. Amid the chaos, Manaea, who needed 70 pitches to escape the third, wouldn’t allow any more damage.

“He had the one bad inning and it looked like I was going to have to go get him in the third,” Melvin said. “And he ended up giving us five. So we didn’t have to use too much from the bullpen today.”

The starter’s velocity, which has fluctuated through the year, dipped to 88 mph at times but neither Manaea nor Melvin said there are any health concerns. For Manaea, less might be more.

“I think that’s the thing, I’m just thinking too much,” Manaea explained. “I’m just trying to perfect every little thing. I’m just thinking way too much on the mound. When things are going good, I’m not really thinking about anything, but [now] I’m just thinking a lot.”

The most encouraging development of the day came hours before Manaea took the mound and stumbled to his fourth loss this month.

As Melvin and a trainer watched, Davis sprinted from second base to home, with no ill effects, passing the final hurdle in his return from a Grade 1 groin strain. Melvin said Davis, shelved since May 20, will be back in the lineup for Thursday’s matinee finale with the Rays.

With the A’s in the midst of a mini slide, losing four of six, Melvin was thrilled to welcome Davis back.

“It means we’ve got our sledge hammer back in the middle of the lineup,” he said.

kbuscheck@sfexaminer.com

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