Following an impressive April in which Jesse Chavez was a revelation for the A’s filling into a rotation vacated by the injured Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, the 30-year old righty struggled to keep his success going in first start of May.
Chavez had compiled a 2-0 record with a mind-blowing 1.89 ERA and 41 strikeouts over 38 innings pitched, spanning six starts. He was tied for the third most strikeouts in the American League through April and second in the AL in ERA.
Tuesday night, Chavez suffered his first loss of the season, though aside from a rough first inning, he pitched relatively well.
“He was a little out of sorts in the first inning but battled,” said manager Bob Melvin, “and that’s a sign of a guy that can recover and pitch well, and he kept us in the game. Just got away from us there in the end.”
After striking out Michael Saunders to begin the game, Chavez surrendered back-to-back singles to James Jones and Robinson Cano. Were it not for a very Josh Reddick-esque leaping catch by Craig Gentry to take extra bases away from Corey Hart, it would have certainly been back-to-back-to-back hits and a run scored. Nonetheless, there were two outs and Chavez looked like he may escape the inning.
The first pitch to Justin Smoak following Gentry’s Gold Glove auditioning catch wound up at the backstop though and the run that had been saved a mere moments earlier was gifted back to Seattle for an early 1-0 lead. Smoak pounded the next pitch for an RBI double to plate Cano and give the M’s a 2-0 lead. Kyle Seager followed Smoak’s double with a walk to put runners on first and second and Dustin Ackley followed with a RBI single of his own to bring home Smoak and put a cap on the Mariners’ three-run inning (Mike Zunino stopped the bleeding by mercifully grounding out to Nick Punto at second).
The second inning went better for Chavez. He got Brad Miller and Saunders to ground out to Punto at second for the first and second outs of the inning, and Jones to ground out to Lowry at shortstop for a quick 1-2-3 inning.
Following a walk of Gentry and a single by Brandon Moss, Seattle Mariners rookie Roenis Elias returned the wild pitch favor by Chavez in the first with one of his own in the second, allowing Gentry to move up to third and Moss to move into scoring position at second base. Punto promptly tied the game with a two-RBI single up the middle. He moved into scoring position thanks to an offline throw home by Jones in centerfield. Crisp, who led off the A’s half of the first inning with a single, was unable to bring Punto home in his second at bat, grounding out to end the threat with Oakland having cut the lead to 3-2.
Cano proved to be a thorn in Chavez’s side Tuesday night with his second hit of the night coming in just the third inning. He was able to advance to second base after tagging up on Hart’s fly out to Crisp in center field. Crisp tried to throw Cano out at second, but Punto interfered with the cutoff throw and dropped it in the outfield to eliminate any chance, however small it may have been, of Crisp doubling up Cano. With Smoak batting and just one out, Moss made a terrific play at first to rob the Mariners’ first baseman of a hit and record the second out of the inning. Chavez worked out of the threat this time, getting Seager to fly out to Cespedes and strand Cano at third base.
Chavez rivaled Gentry’s leaping catch with his own bid for the defensive play of the game in the fourth inning with a quick snag that not only saved a run, but saved himself from being the latest pitcher to be hit in the head by a comebacker. Saunders hit a sharp line drive right back at Chavez with Ackley running from second and two outs. In what was I am sure just a reactionary defensive move, Chavez was able to get his glove on the ball and keep it in the webbing. It’s far less important that Chavez was able to make the out than to avoid the injury, but his quick reactions and glove work spared him both and ended the inning.
“It was all reflexes,” said Chavez. “I just put my glove up, and… I’m standing here.”
Seattle tacked on another run in the sixth inning on Zunino’s sacrifice fly to right field to score Seager. With a runner on second and two outs, manager Bob Melvin pulled Chavez in favor for Sean Doolittle, who retired Brad Miller for the third out and stranded the runner.
Doolittle returned to work the seventh inning and retired all three batters on strikeouts, giving four strikeouts for the night, on four batters faced. Luke Gregerson worked a scoreless eighth inning, though he did allow a two-out double to Seager and then intentionally walked Ackley before getting Zunino to ground into a force out at third to retire Seager.
The final line for Jesse Chavez was 5.2 innings pitched, four earned runs on seven hits, two walks and three strike outs. It certainly was not the type of outing the A’s had become accustomed to receiving from Chavez in the first month of the season, but considering the start to the game, he gave Oakland quality innings in a game in which sparing the bullpen was key with the doubleheader looming Wednesday.
Yoenis Cespedes again cut the lead to just a single run with his solo home run in the sixth inning, his fifth of the season, to make it a 4-3 game. That would be all the offense the A’s could muster on the night though and their comeback would fall short.
Roenis Elias wound up finishing his night with 6.1 innings pitched, allowing three runs on five hits and three walks. He struck out five Athletics’ batters en route to his third victory of the season for the Mariners.
Jim Johnson, who had looked much better since his early April struggles, regressed considerably in the ninth inning. In 2/3 of an inning, Johnson started the ninth inning with the A’s still in the game 4-3 and needed to hold the Mariners scoreless to give Oakland a chance at the walk-off, or at least tie the game and head into extra innings.
He began by walking Brad Miller. Michael Saunders attempted to sacrifice Miller over to second, though an errant throw by Johnson allowed Miller to go all the way to third and Saunders to move to second base. Following a strikeout of James Jones, Johnson intentionally walked Cano to load the bases with just one out. Corey Hart grounded into a force out to Jed Lowrie, but Miller scored from third to push the score to 5-4. Smoak followed with a single to Crisp in center field that Saunders and Connor Gillespie who was pinch running for Hart to push the score to 7-4. Kyle Seager put the final touches on Johnson’s night with his double left field to score Smoak for the 8-4 final.
Dan Otero came in to mop up Johnson’s mess and retired the only batter he faced, Ackley, on three pitches, getting a groundout to second base.
The A’s offense was a combined 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left nine runners on base in the loss as Oakland dropped to 19-14 on the season and the Mariners improved to 16-15 to edge above .500.
The A’s and Mariners play a double-header Wednesday to make up for the cancelled game on April 4 in the rainless rainout due to poor field conditions. It will be Dan Straily against Felix Hernandez in the first game and likely Drew Pomeranz against Erasmo Ramirez in the second game, though Pomeranz has not officially been named the starter yet.
The A’s will recall Arnold Leon as the 26th man for the second game, as MLB rules allow in double header situations.