By Alex Hall
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — With their starting rotation in tatters and a supersized bullpen on hand thanks to expanded September rosters, the Oakland A’s got creative with their pitching management on Saturday. The Mariners weren’t fazed, though, and Seattle teed off against a parade of A’s hurlers to capture an 8-7 victory.
Oakland began the game with relief pitcher Liam Hendriks serving as the “opener,” borrowing a strategy pioneered by the Tampa Bay Rays this season. The opener usually pitches the first inning or two and eventually gives way to a “bulk guy,” whose job it is to go for several innings. On Saturday the bulk guy was Daniel Mengden, normally a starter.
“Pitching early on wasn’t great, but later on we shut ‘em down and gave ourselves a chance, and then had the winning run at the plate,” said manager Bob Melvin. “We continued to fight and put ourselves in a position to potentially win.”
Hendriks made it through the first inning without issue, but he ran into trouble in the second by letting the first two batters reach base. The A’s almost escaped the jam, but southpaw Danny Coulombe entered to face lefty hitter Ben Gamel and allowed a two-out, two-run double.
Mengden fared even worse, allowing three more runs in the third and another in the fourth. The right-hander faced 13 batters and retired only six of them, needing 54 pitches to make it through his two innings.
“We’ll always reevaluate and see what we think is best,” said Melvin of the possibility of trying the strategy again. “(Mengden) was just a little out of sorts I think. Command wasn’t great at times. He was warming up in the first, the second, trying to keep himself ready to go out in the third. Whether that affected him or not, I’m not sure.”
Next up was Cory Gearrin, making his A’s debut in the fifth inning. He retired his first two batters but then let the next four reach base, with two of them scoring to push the Mariners’ lead to 8-1.
“He’s got good stuff,” said Melvin of his first impression of Gearrin. “He’s funky, he’s got a deceptive arm slot, but just couldn’t put it away right there. He’ll be a good pitcher for us.”
The A’s ultimately used nine pitchers in the game, which tied an Oakland record and marked the first time they’d done so in a nine-inning game. They also used 24 total players, setting an Oakland record for a nine-inning game.
Meanwhile, the A’s couldn’t muster much at the plate against Mariners ace James Paxton. The last time the lefty pitched was nearly three weeks ago — also against the A’s — and they knocked him out of that game with a line drive off his arm. This time, Paxton got the better of Oakland, striking out 10 in five innings in his first game back off the disabled list.
The one batter who had Paxton’s number was Mark Canha, who was playing first base while Matt Olson got the night off. Canha drove in Oakland’s first run with an RBI groundout, and later blasted a two-run homer.
The A’s made a late push against the Mariners bullpen, plating four runs in the eighth. Khris Davis launched a homer off reliever Alex Colome, and then Oakland loaded the bases. Seattle turned to closer Edwin Diaz, who served up a bases-clearing double to Marcus Semien to cut the lead to 8-7. Diaz then recorded the final four outs to end the comeback bid and seal the wild victory.
The homer by Davis was his 40th of the season, marking the third straight year he’s hit 40 or more. He’s the only Oakland player ever to hit at least 40 in three straight years, and the only other time it’s happened in franchise history was by Hall of Fame slugger Jimmie Foxx, who did it for the Philadelphia A’s from 1932 to 1934.
“I’d rather win the game and not get 40,” Davis said.
Despite the loss, it was a memorable day for catcher Beau Taylor. Called up Saturday morning, the 28-year-old made his big league debut as a late-inning defensive replacement. He was drafted in 2011 and is in his eighth season in the A’s organization. He was called up instead of fellow catcher Bruce Maxwell, who was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.
With the loss, the A’s dropped to 81-56, and their Wild Card lead was cut to 4 1/2 games over Seattle. The AL West-leading Houston Astros won, increasing their division lead to 2 1/2 games. On the bright side, the A’s lineup once again showed that they are never out of any game and are always a threat to hit their way back from any deficit.
“Don’t fall asleep on our offense,” said Davis. “We’ll strike back at some point.”