OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics’ bullpen helped lead them to the postseason in 2018, but this year, it’s the main thing preventing them from making a push up the standings.
The A’s blew their American League-leading 14th save of the season on Sunday, turning a late lead into a 6-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners in a story that is becoming all too familiar.
Oakland entered the eighth inning with a 3-2 lead, but setup man Lou Trivino was unable to hold it. Two walks and an error by right fielder Mark Canha loaded the bases, and then Kyle Seager doubled in a pair to swing the scoreboard in Seattle’s favor. Yusmeiro Petit came in to relieve Trivino, but allowed a sacrifice fly and then a triple to drive home both of his inherited runners and give the Mariners some insurance.
“It’s frustrating when I’m not commanding my pitches the way I want,” said Trivino, who fell to 2-4. “Cutter wasn’t there today. Fastball wasn’t there. Curveball wasn’t there. It just wasn’t a good day.”
This is the fifth time this season that the A’s have lost a game in which they led after seven innings. Last year they lost only two such games. Not even halfway into 2019, they’re already just four short of last year’s total of 18 blown saves, and they’ve gone on to lose 10 of those games in which they blew a save.
“Right now with Lou, it’s more location than anything else. The stuff is still good,” said manager Bob Melvin. “He’s getting behind in the count, he’s walking guys, he’s just coming out a little bit early and having a tough time finding the strike zone.”
For Trivino, this was his fourth blown save of 2019, after totaling just five last year in his rookie campaign. He’s far from alone, though, as three other A’s relievers have multiple blown saves as well. Melvin has not yet discussed with Trivino the possibility of moving the right-hander to another role in the bullpen while he works through his slump, though Melvin didn’t reject the possibility.
“We played really well today, we pitched our butts off, I thought we played really really well, and I come in and I blow the lead for what seems like the 10th time this year,” said Trivino, who believes a mechanical issue is causing his recent struggles. “So it’s very frustrating, and Lord willing I can fight through this.”
The bullpen’s implosion erased a solid effort from rookie starter Tanner Anderson. In just his second Major League start, the right-hander limited the Mariners to two runs in 5 1/3 innings to keep his team in the game and leave them with a lead.
Anderson, who relied mostly on his 93-mph sinker, induced grounders on 15 of his 17 batted balls. He did allow a two-run homer to Mallex Smith in the third inning, but otherwise never let the Mariners reach second base. He added three strikeouts and issued only one walk.
“Really just one bad pitch, to Smith,” Melvin said of Anderson’s outing. “But other than that, sinker was good again, both sides [of the plate]. Used just enough offspeed to keep ‘em off balance. Got us into the sixth inning when they had some lefties coming up. Did his job, came out with a lead. Two really good starts for him.”
That’s the second time in as many tries that Anderson has worked into the sixth inning while allowing just two runs. The A’s fifth starter spot has cycled through Aaron Brooks, Daniel Mengden and Paul Blackburn already this year, but the unheralded Anderson, acquired in a minor trade over the offseason, has shown promise so far. That’s a big turnaround from the 6.26 ERA he posted in Triple-A before his promotion last week.
“Definitely [better at using] some offspeed to set up some fastballs,” said Anderson of his improvement in the majors. “I think that there’s a little more adrenaline up here. I can get some more sink on the baseball, which is what I’ve been used to. It’s just a process, just getting more consistent with everything, and being able to throw everything is key for a starter.”
Ryan Buchter and Liam Hendriks followed Anderson, keeping Seattle in check until Trivino’s fateful eighth, and then Joakim Soria added a scoreless ninth.
The A’s have yet to win a game this year in which they trail after either seven or eighth innings, after making a habit of dramatic late comebacks last summer. The lineup again came up short on Sunday, managing only three runs against a Seattle pitching staff that leads the majors in runs allowed per game.
Oakland got off to a good start with two runs in the second inning. Khris Davis homered on the day when the stadium giveaway was a bat with his name on it, and Robbie Grossman added an RBI double. But after that, the A’s only reached third base twice for the rest of the game, with one those instances coming on a solo homer by Ramon Laureano in the fourth inning.
With the loss, the A’s drop the series to Seattle and fall back to .500 at 36-36. They’ll hope for better fortunes against the Baltimore Orioles, who come to town on Monday for a three-game series and bring with them the worst record in the majors at 21-50.