OAKLAND — Daniel Mengden gutted through five tough innings in his debut start of 2019, but he and the Oakland Athletics — who authored a pair of thrilling victories this weekend — ran out of gas in the sixth against the Cleveland Indians on Sunday.
With the score tied 2-2 in the sixth inning, Mengden let two of the first three batters reach base and then gave way to left-handed reliever Ryan Buchter. The southpaw retired lefty Jake Bauers for the second out, but he stayed in to face righty Roberto Perez and grooved a fastball straight down the middle. Perez blasted it 424 feet for a three-run homer, and a lead the Indians never relinquished in an eventual 5-3 win.
“We only got so many [relievers available] today, so sometimes you have to go through a righty, [with a] lefty [Leonys Martin] on deck,” manager Bob Melvin said of Buchter, who has mostly been used as a specialist against left-handed hitters this season but was asked for more on Sunday to help out a tired bullpen. “Gets the first out, runners on first and third, just didn’t locate a fastball.”
Buchter, who had briefly been demoted to Triple-A at the end of a tough April, snapped a streak of seven straight scoreless outings since his return to the majors.
Mengden ran into trouble right away in the first inning, as the Indians put together two hits and two walks to score a pair of runs. However, he settled down from there and made it through the next four frames without letting through any more runs until the fateful sixth inning.
“He recovered really well,” said Melvin of Mengden. “Got off to a really slow start, had  pitches in the first two innings, got a little tired there at the end in the sixth, but I thought he recovered really well and kept us in the game.”
Despite giving up plenty of hard contact along the way, and walking four batters in total, Mengden kept the damage to a minimum. From the third through fifth innings, he retired nine of the 10 batters he faced, finishing with a line of 5 1/3 innings, four runs, five hits and four strikeouts.
“Maybe trying to be a little too fine,” said Melvin. “He’s pretty good about hitting the corners and sometimes just off. They made him throw a lot of pitches, they made him work pretty hard. He’s probably lucky to get out with two runs in the first, and had some trouble in the second, and then ends up in the sixth inning. So he recovered well, I think he just started throwing the ball over the plate a little more and getting ahead.”
Mengden was making his first start of the year in the majors after opening 2019 in Triple-A. The right-hander, who pitched 22 games for the A’s last year including 17 starts, was called up on Sunday to start in place of Mike Fiers, who was pushed back to Monday for some extra rest after throwing 131 pitches in his no-hitter his last time out. However, Mengden didn’t think that being in his first game back in the majors had anything to do with his early struggles.
“Just falling behind a little bit, fall behind 1-0, 2-1, puts them in leverage counts and they put good at-bats together,” said Mengden, who noted that he didn’t have a good changeup on Sunday against an Indians lineup stacked with seven lefties.
After Perez’s long ball in the sixth, Matt Olson answered back with his own jack in the bottom half to recoup one of the runs. It was Olson’s first homer of the year, after missing more than month to a broken hamate bone.
“With the hand injury like that, sometimes the power takes a little while to come back, but it hasn’t looked like it,” Melvin said of Olson, who was playing his sixth game since returning from the injured list and eighth game overall this year.
“Feel like I’ve been barreling stuff up pretty well since I’ve been back,” Olson said. “My timing is still a little off, but I wouldn’t be out there if I didn’t think I was 100 percent. I feel like my power is there.”
Despite losing the finale on Mother’s Day and missing the chance to sweep the Tribe, the A’s still won four of their six games on the homestand. That was a welcome sight after dropping eight of nine on their last road trip and looking ahead to another nine-game trip starting on Monday.
“Tough road trip last week, come in and get two series wins is good,” said Olson. “Would have liked to sweep ‘em today, but if we keep winning series we’ll be in a good spot.”
Oakland’s successful homestand, which featured three thrilling walk-off victories, came despite a tepid offensive showing. The A’s scored just 17 runs over the six games, batting .209 along the way. They did at least hit six homers, though, after managing just four on their recent nine-game trip. Furthermore, Khris Davis returned to the lineup Sunday after missing most of the week to a minor hip injury, and his 2-for-4 days plus Olson’s first long ball had the team optimistic about the future outlook of a lineup that was fourth in the Majors in scoring last season.
“The offense still isn’t where we expect it to be,” Melvin said. “It will come around, but it was good to get [Davis] back in there and get a couple knocks. Now we’ll go back on the road and hopefully the offense picks up some.”
“We won four out of six here not playing our best baseball still,” Melvin said. “So, when you’re not playing great, you gotta find ways to win games. We did ‘em, some obviously dramatic, late.”
Olson echoed that sentiment. “It takes a good team to win the games when we’re not really clicking on all cylinders. I feel like that’s how we’ve been playing lately, but coming out with wins is big. We’re gonna get on track here at some point and hopefully get on a roll.”
In addition to Olson’s homer, the A’s also put together an encouraging rally in the third inning thanks to three hitters who are still waiting to get hot this year. Ramon Laureano walked and advanced to second on a groundout, then Jurickson Profar singled him in, and Stephen Piscotty followed with another single to knock in Profar.
The A’s will hit the road next, for a three-city trip beginning in Seattle on Monday. The opener will feature Fiers against lefty Yusei Kikuchi of the Mariners.