The road gets no easier for A's as they wobble home from 1-5 trip

The road gets no easier for A's as they wobble home from 1-5 trip

SEATTLE — The A’s hit the road one week ago as a confident bunch with designs on climbing upward in the American League West standings.

They return home to quite a different story, having completed a disheartening two-city road trip that saw them drop five of six, including Wednesday’s 4-0 blanking by the Seattle Mariners that saw the A’s fail to advance a runner past first base.

Compounding things, first baseman Yonder Alonso exited Wednesday’s game in the seventh inning with a sore left knee after twisting it while trying to hold up on a swing in the fifth. He’ll be re-evaluated in Oakland and his status for Thursday’s series opener against the Boston Red Sox is up in the air.

Where exactly did things go wrong for Oakland as a team over the past week? That’s just it. If the A’s could pinpoint just one area to correct, they could start working to fix it. But in getting swept at Texas, their bullpen was the culprit. In Monday’s series opener at Safeco Field, starter Sean Manaea spotted the Mariners four early runs with faulty command.

Errors have bit them regardless of the day and made things tougher. And on Wednesday, one night after hitting three homers and scoring nine runs, the A’s offense was bottled up by Mariners right-hander Christian Bergman, who registered his first major league victory as a starter since September 2014.

“Offensively, I don’t know that we’ve looked much worse,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Now, you’ve got to give their pitcher some credit. He was on the corners, down at times. He had a little cutter. … (But) I didn’t expect that.”

It’s only mid-May, but the big picture already is beginning to look bleak for the A’s.

They were seven games out and tied for third place after completing a 4-2 homestand May 10. A week later, they are 11 1/2 games off the pace and mired in last place. Their 1-5 trip coincided with the first-place Astros rattling off a 9-1 stretch. Texas has won eight in a row to climb into a share of second place with the Angels, winners of four straight. But because the Astros aren’t taking their foot off the gas, the Rangers and Angels are stuck eight games back.

Not that the A’s are in position to worry about the outside world right now. They’ve got enough issues on their plate. The most pressing immediate concern is the health of Alonso. He said after the game he doesn’t feel his knee is a major concern, but he also wasn’t venturing a guess on whether he’d be in Thursday’s lineup.

“I was stopping my swing halfway and just got a little bit stuck,” Alonso said. “… I was trying to pivot. My whole body just turned and my back foot never really turned.”

Alonso cooled off at the plate during the trip, going 2-for-19. But it goes without saying that the A’s can’t afford to lose their home run and RBI leader for any length of time.

Oakland (17-23) now returns home and faces a daunting stretch of schedule, starting with four against the Red Sox, who will send Chris Sale to the mound Friday. The A’s catch a breather for two games against the Miami Marlins (14-25), but then hit the road to face the AL East-leading New York Yankees and the defending AL champion Cleveland Indians. They’ll return home from that six-game trip and welcome the Washington Nationals, who lead the NL East by a wide margin.

Regardless, the A’s need to focus on playing more fundamentally sound baseball regardless of who’s in the opposing dugout.

“I think as a group we know we can play a lot better,” right fielder Matt Joyce said. “We’ve just got to find a way to do it. Come back tomorrow, face a new team and start over again.”

Lowrie's big hit sparks A's, gets road trip started right

Lowrie's big hit sparks A's, gets road trip started right

NEW YORK — Jed Lowrie is the counterpoint to the A’s home run-crazed offensive attack.

Sure, the A’s switch-hitting second baseman can muscle up and clear the fence. But Lowrie’s approach is more about spraying base hits all around and using the whole field. He was at it again in Friday’s 4-1 A’s victory over the Yankees, going 3-for-4 and delivering an RBI single that snapped a scoreless tie in the eighth.

“I always have to carry his glove out to second for him because he’s always on base,” shortstop Adam Rosales said. “He looks really good at the plate right now, and he’s kind of just putting us on his back. It’s contagious to see a guy like that doing so well.”

Lowrie bumped his average up to .310 with Friday’s game. Until he grounded out in the sixth, he’d notched hits in seven consecutive at-bats dating back to Tuesday night. That streak fell one shy of the A’s record for most consecutive hits. Three players share the record at eight — Josh Reddick (in 2016), Dave Magadan (1997) and Brent Gates (1994).

“It’s all about the work,” said Lowrie, whose 15 doubles are tied for third in the AL. “Everything comes together when you’re seeing it well. I’m seeing it well but the approach hasn’t changed.”

With two runners aboard and two out in the eighth, Lowrie punched an RBI single to right off Tyler Clippard for the game’s first run. It was the breakthrough the A’s needed after they’d struck out 13 times in seven innings against Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka. Khris Davis followed Lowrie’s hit by beating out an infield single to score another run. Then Stephen Vogt added a two-run homer in top of the ninth to make it 4-0, and that provided some cushion as closer Santiago Casilla gave up a run and made things tenser than they should have been in the bottom half.

Davis, the most fearsome hitter in Oakland’s lineup, is thrilled to have a productive Lowrie batting in front of him as the No. 3 man.

“Somebody’s gotta hit .300,” Davis said. “All year he’s been our most consistent hitter and best hitter. I hope he keeps going.”

The A’s have won four in a row at Yankee Stadium dating back to last year. It’s their longest winning streak in the Bronx since a four-gamer at the old stadium in 2006. And it was a good way to begin a seven-game road trip for the A’s, who came in with the league’s worst road record at 6-15.

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Rosales had puffiness under his right eye and said he was anticipating a shiner after his hard head-first dive into third base didn’t go as planned in the eighth. He scraped up his face pretty good after going first to third on an errant pickoff throw and taking a hard dive into third, only to find the dirt wasn’t giving.

After addressing reporters, Rosales said he was on his way to find an ice pack.

Manaea's 'big mentality switch' keys success in first Yankee Stadium start

Manaea's 'big mentality switch' keys success in first Yankee Stadium start

NEW YORK — Dealt another dose of injury bad news Friday, the A’s got to temporarily push those thoughts aside once Sean Manaea took the mound.

The big lefty shined in his first career outing at Yankee Stadium, matching Masahiro Tanaka pitch for pitch and spinning his best start of the season in a 4-1 A’s victory.

After he walked leadoff man Brett Gardner on four pitches in the first, it conjured up memories of his five-walk outing two starts ago at Seattle. But from that point on Manaea locked in, allowing just four hits over seven innings and striking out eight. Not a single Yankee advanced past second base against him.

“He was out there chucking,” A’s left fielder Khris Davis said. “He’s got that Chris Sale stuff where people are swinging and missing in the zone. It’s great to see that.”

The day began with news that Opening Night starter Kendall Graveman and fellow starter Jesse Hahn both are likely headed to the disabled list with shoulder and triceps strains, respectively. It continues the cycle of injury woes for the A’s, who have lost every starter except Andrew Triggs to at least one stint on the 10-day DL. With two-fifths of the rotation down for an unknown period of time, Manaea takes on an even more significant role.

“For a young guy we’ve leaned on him pretty hard since he’s gotten here, but now probably a little bit more so,” manager Bob Melvin said.

Yet no matter what is unfolding elsewhere on the pitching staff, the challenge for Manaea always stems from within. He’s talked often this season about the need to be mentally tougher and more aggressive attacking the strike zone. After the leadoff walk to Gardner, Manaea (3-3) said a switch flipped inside of him.

“I was thinking that these guys weren’t gonna hit me at all, and that I just needed to throw strikes and trust the defense,” he said. “I know I can get these guys out. To me it was a big mentality switch, and just believing in myself and trusting everything.”

Tanaka, who has disappointed this season to the tune of a 6.56 ERA entering Friday, put it together against Oakland and rang up a career-high 13 strikeouts without a single walk. But Manaea was more than up to the task, keeping New York off the board until the A’s scored twice in the eighth to snap a scoreless tie off former Athletic Tyler Clippard, who relieved Tanaka to start that inning.

“He was pitching with a lot of confidence, and that’s what I love to see,” A’s catcher Stephen Vogt said of Manaea. “He wants the ball, wanted to keep going out there. It was awesome.”