OAKLAND — Oakland Athletics starter Frankie Montas came out throwing heat in his first big league start in a month.
“I was a little bit rushed,” Montas said. “I was going a little bit too fast.”
Montas threw 16 pitches at 97 mph or higher against the Seattle Mariners, but allowed five runs in a 38-pitch first.
“It wasn’t just him,” said manager Bob Melvin. “We just had an off game all the way around.”
Gold Glove candidate Matt Chapman committed a costly error, followed by a misplay to bring home a pair of unearned runs that ultimately proved to be too much for Oakland to make up. The A’s lost 7-1, bringing the Seattle Mariners closer in the Wild Card race.
Two nights before the A’s can call up reinforcements Montas was run out for six innings in place of injured starter Sean Manaea. Manaea was one of two starters — including Brett Anderson — to go down in the last week, as Oakland lost two of three to the first-place Houston’s Astros.
Even with essentially four closers in Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, Jeurys Familia and Fernando Rodney, the A’s relief corps needed some relief of their own. In that three-game series in Houston earlier this week, the A’s bullpen threw 14 2/3 innings. After Montas went six, J.B. Wendelken went three.
“The fact that he was able to give us six innings, and J.B. was able to give us three, and rest a bullpen that was pretty worn out, obviously the goal is to win every day, but sometimes, there’s some small victories,” Melvin said. “One of those is the fact that those two guys ate up the game.”
With center fielder Dustin Fowler being removed from his start for the Nashville Sounds in New Orleans, it’s expected he’ll join the club on Friday. Wendelken may be who gets sent down.
It’s expected the A’s will also call up reliever Ryan Dull, starter Chris Bassitt, reliever Danny Coulombe and reliever Josh Lucas, which would help ease the stress on the entire staff.
Thursday, though, Montas had to eat innings, and he continued what’s been a worrying trend: In their last 41 1/3 innings, Oakland starters have given up 25 earned runs. In their last four starts, A’s starters have an 8.10 ERA.
In the marathon first, Montas — starting for the injured Sean Manaea — at times missed locations by a matter of feet, as he reached upwards of 98 mph with his fastball.
“It looked like he was maybe a little too amped up early,” Melvin said. “The velo was really good. It was 98, but he wasn’t locating it.”
He allowed a ringing single and a booming double sandwiched around a strikeout, before leaping up and snaring a hard hopper from Nelson Cruz to erase Mitch Haniger at home. He then walked Kyle Seager, allowed an RBI single to former Athletic Ryon Healy and walked Ben Gamel to force in a run.
Then, on a roller to third by Mike Zunino, Chapman uncorked a wild throw, allowing Seager and Healy to score. Dee Gordon sent a grounder to Chapman’s left, but his throw to first was late, bringing Gamel home.
The mistakes were jarring, given the fact that Chapman leads the majors in defensive runs saved with 26 — eight more than second-place Kolten Wong.
“That’s why it stands out so much,” Melvin said. “You’re used to all the spectacular plays, and everything he does.”
Things got worse for Chapman when, after a leadoff double from Marcus Semien, he grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. Jed Lowrie bounced out to left-handed starter Wade LeBlanc, and Seattle had the shut-down inning it needed. Oakland would manage just four hits, including an RBI single by Lowrie in the eighth.
Chapman would exit in the seventh to get some down time.
“He plays at as high a pace as anybody in the game, so that’s one of the reasons why I gave him a little of the game off,” Melvin said. “He plays every day, gives 110 percent every day, so yeah, we just had an off game.”
Montas would allow two more runs — including a fourth-inning leadoff solo home run by Haniger — but would retire 15 of the next 17.
“After a couple innings, it looked like he settled down to maybe a little bit lower velocity,” Melvin said. “His breaking ball was a bit sharper, had more command. Small victories.”
The loss is the A’s third in their last four games — all to AL West teams — as they finish up a streak of 20 games in 20 days.
“I saw a little bit of [fatigue] in BP today,” Melvin said. “Happens from time to time. The last series took a lot out of us. No excuse. But, I saw a little bit. We’re not going to hit tomorrow to try and combat that a little bit.”
Having faced adversity — true adversity — for the first time this season, Oakland is beginning to show cracks.