OAKLAND – The A’s managed to secure a 9-7 victory over Houston on Wednesday that came tougher than expected, but more important for manager Bob Melvin was taking inventory after the final out was recorded.
Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, who hammered two home runs and had five RBI, left the game with what was diagnosed as a sprained right thumb. X-rays were negative, and Cespedes is scheduled to be re-evaluated before Thursday afternoon’s game. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him be held out of the homestand finale against the Astros.
[INSTANT REPLAY: A's hold on to beat Astros 9-7]
First baseman Brandon Moss also got shaken up with a “stinger”-like injury to his left biceps during a collision on a play at first. He said after the game he was feeling much better, but Melvin said he too would be re-evaluated Thursday morning.
The A’s will cross their fingers that two of their most important hitters are OK. But another concern, after a seven-run lead nearly evaporated Wednesday, has to be the status of struggling reliever Jim Johnson.
Oakland led 9-2 when the top of the eighth started, but Johnson gave up four hits to all four batters he faced to set in motion a five-run Houston rally. Melvin had to call on two other relievers in the eighth, then summon closer Sean Doolittle for the ninth, burning through more of his bullpen than he wanted to.
“At the time we were hoping to maybe use him for two (innings),” Melvin said of Johnson. “But that didn’t happen. It is what it is. He’s having a tough time. The ones down the middle of the plate they’re hitting hard. Then he gets 0-2 and gives up a bloop. He threw some pretty good changeups. He’s just not getting any outs at this point.”
Johnson was charged with four runs (three earned) Wednesday. Over his past five outings, he’s been charged with 12 runs and now carries a 6.92 ERA for the season. The A’s have tried to find some way to incorporate him effectively into the bullpen picture, but at this point they have to be considering how much longer they can afford to keep running him out there.
The Miami Marlins reportedly have shown renewed interest in Johnson. The A’s options, should they decide to part ways with the reliever, would be to try to work a trade and get something in return, or just release him and eat the remainder of his $10 million salary for this season. Even if they find a trade partner, the A’s likely would have to agree to cover a good chunk of his salary.
It’s not an easy situation, for the team or the reliever.
“It just seems like every ball right now is finding a hole,” shortstop Jed Lowrie said. “It’s tough, you know, because you root for a guy. He’s working really hard. Sometimes this game isn’t fair. It’s tough, because we all know how good of a pitcher he is. And I think he knows it. But it’s hard when it piles on like that.”
However, there were positives for the A’s on this night. John Jaso went 3-for-3 with two RBI and is hitting .441 over his last 10 games. Josh Reddick, in his first start since coming off the disabled list, singled and doubled and scored three times. Melvin thought starter Jesse Chavez’s stuff looked “rejuvenated” over 5 2/3 innings, and Chavez was particularly pleased with his cutter.
And, of course, there was Cespedes, who notched the fifth multi-homer game of his career and continues to swing a hot bat since the All-Star break. He’s 8 for 21 since the intermission.
Given how he’s swinging the bat, it’s even more important for the A’s that he’s healthy enough to stay in the lineup. Cespedes did not stick around long enough to address the media and give insight to his injury or discuss his big game.
“He’s such a dynamic player,” Lowrie said. “He’s able to do so much more than just hit home runs. But he’s the two-time Home Run Derby champion. That’s what everyone wants to see out of him. I think he’s actually more productive for us when he doesn’t try to hit them, when he just lets them happen. He’s strong enough to do it without trying.”