CINCINNATI — For the last week, the A’s haven’t been playing like the first-place team the current standings say they are.
Going back to July 30, an eight-day, six-game span, Oakland’s pitching has been inconsistent. So has its defense. The only thing consistent about this club has been its hitting — consistently bad, that is.
A sputtering A’s lineup was nearly shut out a second straight game on Tuesday, before Derek Norris hit one out of the park with two outs in the 9th in an eventual 3-1 series-opening Interleague loss to the host Reds at Great American Ball Park.
Oakland managed just five hits in the affair.
As for that first-place standing, the A’s are quickly letting it slip away, having watched a six-game lead over the Rangers narrow to 1 1/2 games in just eight days.
Before Norris’ homer, his eighth of the year, Oakland hadn’t scored a run since Saturday, a disheartening stretch of 18 innings without one, their longest such streak of the season. And since July 30? Well, only 10 runs have crossed home plate. All the while they’ve left 45 men on base and are 4-for-41 with runners in scoring position.
That includes an 0-for-6 showing on Tuesday, with seven left on base, while starter Dan Straily struggled to gain any sort of rhythm in yet another short outing.
Oakland’s right-hander gave up two runs on six hits, including Jay Bruce’s second-inning solo shot, with one walk and three strikeouts in four innings, marking not only the third straight start he hasn’t completed five frames but also the fifth time in his last eight tries.
Straily didn’t put up a clean inning until his last, and by the time it ended, he was already at 75 pitches, leading to lefty Jerry Blevins’ entrance at the start of the fifth.
Blevins proceeded to allow a leadoff double to Shin-Soo Choo, his issues with first batters — a staggering 44 percent of them have reached base this season — continuing. Only more trouble awaited the lefty, who threw Derrick Robinson’s ensuing sacrifice bunt into right field, allowing Choo to score and Robinson to safely reach first.
Blevins stranded Robinson and the Reds didn’t score another run, but neither did the A’s, who watched righty Mat Latos toss 7 1/3 scoreless innings.
Matt Garza is making fast friends with his new division foes.
The Rangers pitcher, having already voiced his displeasure with Eric Sogard on Saturday after the A’s infielder executed a safety squeeze, took to Twitter later in the night and took shots at not only Sogard but the infielder’s wife, Kaycee.
Among his numerous tweets directed at the Sogards: “childish is having your wife speak up for you! certain people can’t shut there woman up!”
Eric, participating in a team charity bowling tournament on Saturday night, learned of Garza’s remarks from a few teammates and was rather surprised, especially since wife Kaycee had only tweeted, “Eric is probably the last person to respond to getting called names.”
“I went back and looked to see what she said and I don’t see it how it was directed at him, or how he could take it that way,” Sogard said.
Still, he took the high road and even slightly excused Garza’s actions.
“Obviously you get caught up in the heat of the moment, things like that can happen,” Eric said, “but I was kind of surprised to see it escalated and what happened later.
“[Kaycee] just thought it was a joke. She took it off her shoulders quickly, wasn’t offended by it really. We just kind of laughed about it. We took it as a joke, and that’s how we’ll continue to look at it.”
Garza did not speak to Sogard in the morning and told reporters he didn’t plan to, but he issued this statement, declining to field further questions:
“All I want to say is I let my competitive spirit cross outside the lines, and that shouldn’t happen. I let my passion, my fire carry over, and that’s not how this game should be played. And for that I apologize to the Sogards for anything that was said through my Twitter. That’s all I have. I regret what happened, and I’m just looking forward to a great game today.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin is not on Twitter but he was well aware of the goings-on.
“I really don’t have a reaction,” he said. “That’s between two others in a world I’m not part of.”
Melvin, like Sogard, didn’t quite understand why so much frustration was built over Sogard’s ability to do his job, which extended Oakland’s lead to two runs in a 4-2 victory.
“We’re trying to add on a run against a really good pitcher that was on a roll,” Melvin said. “We got to him early in the game and scored three runs off him but didn’t do anything after that. We’re just trying to get a run home. They’d do it as well.”
“I was just doing my job out there,” added Sogard. “I got the bunt sign from my third-base coach and put the bunt down and apparently he didn’t like it. Just playing the game. Obviously it’s something you want to leave on the field when the game ends and move on.”
Asked if he’d bunt against Garza the next time he faces him, Sogard smiled.
“We’ll see,” he said. “It seemed to work out yesterday.”
With a pair of off-days looming and no need for a fifth starter until Aug. 13, the A’s opted to exchange one of their starters for relief help from Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday.
Struggling lefty Tommy Milone, who gave up six runs on nine hits, including two two-run homers, in just 3 2/3 innings in a loss to the Rangers on Friday, was the odd man out. Long reliever Evan Scribner took his roster spot.
“Tommy just needs to go down there and do his thing,” manager Bob Melvin said. “He went through a little period here recently where he hasn’t been pitching great, but he’s still pretty good. And when you’re sending a guy like Tommy Milone down, it means you have some good pitching, and we do.
“He’s been giving up some hits, and maybe his command isn’t like it was earlier. Last night was his worst game. He’s had a couple of these in his last four. We still have a lot of confidence in Tommy. He’s a big part of this team, he’s just not here right now.”
Friday marked the second time in his last four starts of pitching fewer than four innings for Milone, who has a 4.81 ERA over his last 14 starts after posting a 3.71 ERA during his first eight.
He’ll start for the River Cats on Thursday in Omaha.
“Obviously I feel like I haven’t pitched like myself lately,” Milone said, “and I think it could be good to go down and work on myself and work on getting back to what I think I am and what I know I am as a pitcher, and hopefully I’ll be back up here soon.
“I feel like that’s the kind of pitcher I am, the guy who’s always consistent and tries to keep their team in the game, and I haven’t been that guy. Hopefully I can get that back.”
Scribner joins the A’s for the third time this year but first since May 10 when he was optioned to Sacramento, where he has a 2.48 ERA in 25 relief appearances. He comes to the A’s having not pitched in two days, giving them a fresh arm following Dan Otero’s 42-pitch relief performance on Friday.
“Throwing as many pitches as he did yesterday,” Melvin said, “you get into an extra-inning game today and you don’t want to get caught short.
“Scrib’s pitched in any number of roles for us. He’s matched up, pitched an inning later in games, pitched length for us. He’s a very versatile bullpen piece.”
“It’s always fun to pack your whole life up in an hour,” joked Scribner, who got word of his promotion early Saturday. “Down there I felt great, throwing strikes, getting ahead. It’s frustrating being away from the team but we have fun down there too. It’s something I think about on an everyday basis but I try to stay focused on doing my own thing to try to get back as fast I could.”