There are nights over a 162-game season that are best forgotten about quickly.
Friday’s loss at Boston certainly fits that description for the Oakland A’s. They didn’t pitch well, and they couldn’t hit much. It seemed an example of a team that received a day off Thursday at the exact wrong time, considering the momentum they’d generated during a three-game sweep of Texas.
But before you flush this 7-1 defeat to the Red Sox from your system, realize there might be one ray of sunshine worth carrying forward. Lefty reliever Fernando Abad, in his first season with Oakland, continues to mean bad news for opposing hitters.
His was a brief cameo on a night that the relief corps did not distinguish itself as a whole. Abad relieved starter Dan Straily with two runners in scoring position and one out in the bottom of the fifth. Two strikeouts later, Abad was walking back to the dugout and the A’s escaped a jam in a sequence that, at the time, seemed it might swing momentum in their favor even as they trailed 2-1.
Abad has now posted 12 scoreless outings to begin his season. He has struck out 14 of the 41 batters he’s faced and he continues to push for a bigger role in a bullpen that has experienced its share of issues thus far.
Abad was brought in to face Boston No. 3 hitter David Ortiz, as manager Bob Melvin called upon a rested bullpen early because Straily was off his game. Abad fell behind 2-0 to Ortiz and ran the count to full before breaking off a power curve that froze Big Papi for strike three.
After Mike Napoli was intentionally walked to load the bases, Grady Sizemore stepped in. Abad again ran the count to full, and with all runners in motion, he blew a fastball by Sizemore to complete his escape job.
The rest of the bullpen didn’t have as much to celebrate. Dan Otero took over in the sixth but couldn’t keep the ball down. He loaded the bases with one out on two singles and a walk, his second subpar outing in a row. Ryan Cook came in to face Dustin Pedroia and served up a grand slam on an 0-2 slider that put the A’s in a 6-1 hole.
Of course, the bullpen only had a busy night because Straily fell behind hitters regularly and couldn’t make it past the fifth. He owns a 5.01 ERA, and just once in his past four starts has he lasted as long as six innings.
“I pitched my way out of the game early,” Straily told reporters. “I fell behind every single hitter, and that’s just not the way to pitch. Anything less than five innings is just really unacceptable.”
Abad, acquired from Washington over the winter for minor league outfielder John Wooten, was there to pick Straily up, at least temporarily.
With so much focus on whether Jim Johnson gets another crack at the closer spot, and indications from Melvin are he soon could, it’s worth considering whether Abad also becomes a ninth-inning option.
The whole closer debate has been put on hold lately because of the nature of the A’s games – they had two blowout wins and got a complete game from Sonny Gray in the sweep of the Rangers, then obviously had no need for a closer in the series opener at Fenway.
But Abad is providing a strong argument to be used in more prominent late-inning situations. And on Friday, he also provided the A’s only real highlight.