The Athletics are suddenly a struggling team having last lost seven of 10, including heart breakers to end the last two series. In Sunday’s finale in Seattle, they fell in extra innings when Kendrys Morales planted a Grant Balfour pitch into the right-field seats for a three-run, walk-off homer to win the series.
That came after the A’s lost the series in Texas when Josh Donaldson was thrown out at the plate in the ninth inning trying to score the game-tying run giving the Rangers the 3-1 advantage in the four-game set.
Oakland returns home to welcome the Cincinnati Reds (45-32) who find themselves in the thick of the playoff race in the National League.
It’s far too early to project on the A’s struggles based on their last 10 games, especially considering their 21-5 run prior. But with three days off in the last 38 days, the club was clearly hitting a wall, evident by recent struggles from the starting staff and the bullpen.
After putting together three quality starts allowing a run or less, Dan Straily went on to struggle over his next four outings with a 5.82 ERA. He was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento after Sunday’s loss because the A’s have three days off over the next week and won’t need a fifth starter until July 6. At that point, the team can decide to bring Straily back or go with Sonny Gray, the team’s top starting pitching prospect who’s thrown very well in Sacramento all season.
In the meantime, the Athletics called up left-handed hitting catcher Stephen Vogt, who figures to take some pressure of Derek Norris and John Jaso, two players that have been the most heavily hit by the grueling schedule over the last month and a half.
Norris has been struggling at the plate and could use a spell after getting beaten up behind the plate. Jaso has a hand injury that he’s still recovering from and will sit Tuesday to allow Vogt the start. Jaso was in the original lineup posted, but a change was made around 2 p.m.
Vogt was a surprise acquisition when the A’s sent cash to Tampa Bay in an April 6 trade. He appeared in 18 games for the Rays last year and is still looking for his first big league hit. He’s currently 0 for 25.
The catcher caught fire early on with Triple-A Sacramento, hitting .438/.494/.788 with six home runs in April, but then cooled off considerably in May, hitting just .228. He regained his feel at the plate in June with an 833 OPS prior to the promotion.
Defensively, he threw out 40 percent of base stealers with the River Cats, which would be well above the major league average. The former 12th-round pick in 2007 caught far more games than any other River Cats catcher with the team going 31-18 in his starts. Sacramento was 11-18 in games when Vogt was not catching.
With Vogt catching and hitting eighth Tuesday, the A’s will send Tommy Milone (6-7, 3.98 ERA) against Bronson Arroyo (6-5, 3.13) in their return to the O.Co Coliseum. Milone is coming off a tough outing in Texas where he surrendered six runs in the team’s 9-4 loss last Wednesday, giving him a full six days’ rest between starts.
Over his career two-plus year career, the left-hander predictably has his best numbers with six-days’ rest or more, going 5-1 with a 3.33 ERA. He has a 4.12 ERA with five days’ rest or fewer.
Arroyo will be looking for his first win since June 3, but has thrown very well in his last five outings where he’s allowed just five earned runs over 28.2 innings. Armed with four pitches, the 36-year-old has struggled against left-handed hitters this year, allowing a .303/.340/.490 slash line with eight home runs. The A’s will be fielding a lineup with seven lefties.
Wednesday’s matinee will see Homer Bailey (4-5, 3.75) take on A.J. Griffin (5-6, 3.90). Bailey has been hit or miss with the Reds in 2013, allowing four or more runs in five of his 15 starts, while also two runs or less eight times.
The right-hander’s record and ERA appear to be bloated by luck, evident by his 2.97 FIP, .303 BABIP and strikeout totals that equate to almost one per inning. He’s also inducing grounders at a near 2-1 rate over fly balls. His fastball averages over 93 and he throws a slider, curveball and split-finger fastball at very similar rates. After getting drafted seventh-overall in 2004, it appears the 27-year-old is rounding into form in the physical prime of his career after struggling in his first five big league seasons.
Griffin continues to look for his first win since May 25 against Houston. Since then, he has a 4.02 ERA with Oakland losing all five games he started. Griffin’s effectiveness has lied only in low-leverage situations so far in 2013, allowing hitters just a .179/.211/.350 slash line. It’s with runners on base where he needs to improve. Typically, he starts out games strong (1.60 ERA in innings 1 through 3) but has a 6.91 ERA in frames 4 through 6.