The last time Stephen Piscotty saw Zack Greinke was in 2016. He went 1-for-3 as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Piscotty is sitting out the finale against the Houston Astros with a mild rolled ankle. He’s the only Oakland Athletics hitter with more than three career at-bats against the former Cy Young winner — going 3-for-10. That said, “Even I’d have to go look at tape,” Piscotty said. “He’s a different pitcher.”
Greinke has lost two miles per hour on his fastball, three on his slider and five on his curve since he last faced Piscotty, yet is arguably having his best season in years. He’s why Oakland will have a very tough time taking four games from the Astros for the first time since 2017.
“They’ve got a tough customer going over there,” said manager Bob Melvin.
Over the last three seasons, Greinke has won 45 games and been to two All-Star games, but he posted an ERA of 3.53 over 568 2/3 innings with Arizona — well above the career 3.35 mark he’d posted in 11 years the Royals, Brewers and Dodgers. He hasn’t had an ERA under three since 2015.
Finally comfortable with his drop in velocity, Greinke — who used to throw a 95-mph fastball and a 94-mph slider — has posted his best ERA (2.91), ERA+ (155), FIP (3.27), and WHIP (0.981) since 2015, and the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career (5.72).
Since Greinke has been in the National League for the six-plus seasons, non-pitchers currently on the A’s roster haven’t seen him very often. They’re a combined 5-for-15, with four of the five hits coming from Marcus Semien and Matt Chapman (each 2-for-3).
Houston, though, has seen plenty of A’s starter Brett Anderson. Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley alone are 9-for-26 with two doubles. The Astros are a combined 32-for-75 (.427) with four homers and eight doubles against the Oakland lefty, making a four-game sweep against Houston for the first time since Sept. 8-10, 2017 doubly tough.
A sweep would bring the A’s to within 5 1/2 games of the AL West lead, making a run at the title at least somewhat possible. Right now, Oakland stands a half game back of the second wild card, after the Tampa Bay Rays won in 13 innings on Saturday.
The A’s are sitting Khris Davis, who was the only Athletic hitter without a hit on Saturday. Melvin said that two days off will help him flush his latest performances. Davis — who hit 133 home runs over three seasons heading into 2019 — has hit .165 with only one home run in his last 35 games. He’s hit .212 with seven home runs since signing his two-year extension on April 18, after starting the season with 10 home runs over the first three weeks.
“We’ll just give Chris the day today, we have the off day tomorrow, and maybe just get some distance again,” Melvin said. “He’s going through a tough period right now, and he’s he’s fighting hard and you know, he’s hard on himself and he’s working. It gives him a day to kind of take the pressure off and do some work in the cage.”
Piscotty lobbied to play on Sunday, and Melvin admitted he probably could have, but with an off day on Monday before the series with the New York Yankees, Piscotty will be rested out of an abundance of caution. He suffered the rolled ankle while sliding back into second on a pickoff play in the seventh inning on Saturday. He advanced on a groundout by Corban Joseph, but was lifted for pinch runner Chad Pinder as soon as he got to third. Pincer is in the starting lineup in right on Sunday.
“When we were out there talking to him, I was a little bit worried about it — similar to his knee — but wasn’t that extreme, just rolled his ankle just a little bit,” Melvin said. “After the game doctor said he’s good to go. He was kind of fighting to get in there today, but you know, with the off day tomorrow, makes some sense to give them two days off and I think you’ll be ready to go after the off day.”
Ramon Laureano, suffering from a stress reaction in his right shin, will start running on Tuesday. He was throwing a medicine ball down the left field line before Sunday’s game. The 22-year-old center fielder told The Examiner on Sunday that he was “really bored,” and Melvin has said that Laureano is a veritable ball of energy, so much so that he had to get him to take the lineup card out for the Bay Bridge Series just to give him something to do.
“The good news is he’s able to do some baseball activity,” Melvin said. “As we speak, he’s throwing med ball around on the field over there, probably out of anger, but yes, that is a step in the right direction for him. I know he’s eager to get back. He’s driving everybody crazy. It’s going to be more see how he feels the next day after running. If everything feels good, then then maybe we ramp it up a little bit but still no timetable on that subject.”
The A’s are still trying to figure out exactly what to do with Jharel Cotton. The plan was to bring him up as a reliever after he was fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and rehabbed in the minors. He’s gone 1-3 with an 8.69 ERA in 19 2/3 innings over 13 games. A starter by trade, the A’s may just bring him up when rosters expand on Sept. 1, get him some more big league run, and then bring him back full-time as a starter next season.
“I think with the way we look in our bullpen right now, we’re fine with the guys we have,” Melvin said. “Now, you know, yeah who knows what September looks like? Who knows what next week looks like. So the potential is always there for him the show up and even in a bullpen role.”