Aside from the impressive power display from Yoenis Cespedes in Oakland’s first two US-based contests, the team struggled in nearly every facet of the game.
Starters Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon didn’t back up their strong starts in Japan. Colon struggled especially, allowing seven earned runs in 4.1 innings. The team’s defense was especially disconcerting, as key miscues from multiple positions led to big Mariners' innings. The club’s offense went through its typical struggles in the season’s first four games, combining to hit .221/.257/.386 as a team.
But an opening series tends to be fluky and often doesn’t indicate the type of season a team is poised to have. At least the A’s hope so. The Royals, on the other hand, hope their play in the series with the juggernaut Angels translates to a successful campaign for the young team.
After losing the first game of the series 5-0, Kansas City went on to outscore the Angels 13-6 over the next two games to take the series. They were led by rising star Eric Hosmer, who hit two home runs, drove in three and scored five times in the three games. Jeff Francoeur and Humberto Quintero also got off to good starts, combining to get eight hits in 18 at-bats.
The Royals will be relying heavily on third baseman Mike Moustakas to help power their young lineup. The former highly touted third base prospect is spending his first April in the big leagues and figures to be one of the team’s major building blocks alongside Hosmer. Moustakas only has one hit in seven bats in 2012, but that hit was a home run off Dan Haren.
In the first game, the A’s will send rookie left-hander Tom Milone to the hill, where he was last seen stifling Triple-A Sacramento and the Giants in exhibition games with 13 strikeouts in 11 innings. Milone doesn’t have stuff that’s strikes fear in hitters, but his control has been nearly impeccable all spring, with his performance leaving little question who would become the team’s No. 3 starter.
Acquired from Washington in the Gio Gonzalez trade, Milone made five starts for the Nationals in 2011, going 1-0 with a 3.81 ERA. But the number that stands out about the southpaw is the four walks in 26 innings. That’s typical of Milone, who has averaged just 1.38 walks per nine innings in his professional career.
On Monday, the Royals will start Luis Mendoza, who has also benefited from a good spring. In his five years in the majors, Mendoza is 6-9 with a 7.36 ERA. But the right-hander is coming off a solid year at Triple-A Omaha, where he went 12-5 with a 2.18 ERA. Mendoza has been working on his sinker, which proved to be effective in the Pacific Coast League.
Mendoza has made one start and three relief appearances against the A’s during his career, but hasn’t pitched against the green and gold since 2008. In 4.1 career innings, Mendonza has a 5.79 ERA, 1.93 WHIP and .333 average against. He’s thrown 1.2 innings in relief at O.co Coliseum, where he’s allowed three hits and two earned runs.
On Tuesday, Graham Godfrey toes the rubber for the first time in 2012, taking on Danny Duffy. Godfrey is breaking camp in the major league starting rotation for the first time in his young career. The right-hander made five appearances (four starts) for the A's last season, going 1-2 with a 3.96 ERA. Godfrey is another A’s arm without outstanding stuff who relies heavily on his control. He only walked five hitters in 25 innings last year for the A’s, and has walked 1.8 hitters per nine innings during his five years as a pro.
Godfrey beat out Tyson Ross to become the club’s fourth starter in spring training. Ross pitched Sunday for the River Cats. In four innings for Triple-A Sacramento, he allowed five hits and an earned run while pitching in the hitter-friendly Cashman Field. Oakland will let Ross get at least one more start with the River Cats because its schedule allows them to only need four starters. After the rare off-day on Sunday, the club has another day off Thursday before playing 13-straight.
Godfrey faces Danny Duffy, who struggled during his rookie season of 2011. In 20 starts, the lefty gave up 119 hits in 105.1 innings, amassing a 5.64 ERA. Duffy is a high-ceiling pitcher with outstanding stuff. He’s still looking to command all of his pitches consistently, which will allow him to become a very effective pitcher. The Goleta, Calif., native is also breaking camp in a big league rotation for the first time. Look for the A’s to try to be patient and work the count against Duffy.
McCarthy (0-1, 2.25) gets the nod in Wednesday’s game three, as he looks to rebound from Friday night’s loss where he admittedly struggled to find the feel for his pitches. McCarthy’s four-run third was his demise against the Mariners, but he was a victim of some poor defensive play with just two of his five runs allowed being earned. Wednesday’s start will be his first on somewhat of a normal schedule after pitching in Japan and then again Opening Night in Oakland. McCarthy is 1-1 with a 5.48 ERA in his career against the Royals, making most of his appearances in relief.
Kansas City will send its own Opening Day starter, Bruce Chen, to the hill. He is 2-3 in seven career starts against the A’s. Chen pitched well in his team’s season-opening loss to the Angels, throwing six shutout innings allowing just three hits. The 14-year veteran is on his 10th team, with a career ERA of 4.50.
The A's situation at first base remains complicated. Kila Ka'aihue has three hits in his first eight at-bats of the year, but those hits are all singles and he has yet to draw a walk. His defense has been shaky, showing a tendency to be over-aggressive on ground balls to his right. It’s an easy problem to fix, but it’s clear the A's other first baseman, Brandon Allen, is better defensively.
Allen is hitless on the year, but his two starts came against Felix Hernandez, who tortured the left-handed hitter with his filthy changeup. Hernandez struck out Allen five times in those two games.
Rehabbing former A's starting first baseman Daric Barton has gotten off to a hot start with Triple-A Sacramento, going 7-for-19 with a grand slam in his four games. He’s now eligible to come off the DL, meaning he could replace Ka’aihue or Allen sooner, rather than later. It will be a tough decision for the A’s because both Allen and Ka'aihue are out of options in the majors, meaning they would have to pass through waivers before being demoted to the minors. Barton has an option year remaining.