OAKLAND — After needing 35 pitches to make it through the first, Daniel Mengden appeared headed for yet another short outing on Friday night.Instead, the right-hander — the Oakland Athletics’ fourth rookie starter in a row — worked five innings of two-run ball. Mengden retired the final seven hitters he faced and struck out four of them, but that wasn’t enough to help the A’s avoid a 3-2 loss.
In his laborious opening inning, Mengden threw 13 pitches alone to Nelson Cruz and the Seattle Mariners slugger hammered the final one off the top of the jagged edge in right-center field to give the visitors a 1-0 advantage.
“You could just see his confidence went up in the last couple of innings,” manager Bob Melvin said. “But the Cruz at bat took a lot out of him. You know, fouling that many pitches off and doubling. It seems like he was just missing.”
The second run came in the third when Nori Aoki upper-cutted a solo home run just above the spot where Cruz had put his double.
For the right-hander, who served up seven runs in 2.2 innings to the Boston Red Sox last Saturday in his return the rotation, Friday’s showing provided reason for optimism.
“The past couple of outings haven’t been great, so this is a big step forward,” Mengden said. “I’m just trying to get better every start and gain some experience and just get a little better every time.”
The trouble for Mengden was that the offense, which had hit .192 in the previous 12 contests, couldn’t figure out Hisashi Iwakuma or the relievers who followed.
“That’s what we’ve seen basically out of him all year,” Melvin said after the Iwakuma improved to 4-0 against Oakland. “Just when you feel like you have a beat on him and you’re going to score some runs off him, he makes a big pitch when he has to.”
Before the game, Melvin said he hadn’t mentioned to Joey Wendle that the rookie second baseman was about to become the latest A’s player to get a crack at batting first.
“I didn’t talk to Joey about it,” Melvin said. “I’m hoping he looked at the lineup and knows he’s leading off.”
Melvin added that he’d talk to Wendle during batting practice, and whatever he said, it worked.
Wendle, who went 2-for-4, collected a single to begin the game and then rolled a two-out hit up the middle in the fifth to cut the deficit to 2-1.
The only other run the A’s would manage came courtesy of Bruce Maxwell who boomed a double off the wall in center in the bottom of the seventh.
“He was outstanding,” Mengden said after his catcher went 3-for-3. “He’s swinging the bat really well and getting in that groove and getting to play a little bit more.”
By that point, the Mariners had already tacked on an insurance run. Half an inning earlier, Mike Zunino crushed a solo off Daniel Coulombe that landed beyond the wall in left center.