Starting pitching hurts Oakland A’s

Erik Khan,
Staff Writer

The Oakland Athletics’ 2016 season is underway, and they are off to a rather underwhelming start. The team currently sits at 22-29, which is on pace for the sub .500 final record that most analysts predicted they would hold before the season began.

While the record isn’t very shocking, it’s how they’ve got here that has A’s fans scratching their heads: The team’s starting pitching, minus one stud, has been terrible. And that stud is named Rich Hill, not Sonny Gray.

Gray has been less than stellar this season, currently boasting a 3-5 record with an atrocious 6.19 earned run average, more than double the league average. Expected to be the one bright spot on the Athletics this season with CY young aspirations, Gray has fallen flat on his face out of the gate. He is currently placed on the 15-day disabled list after suffering a strained right trapezius but is expected to be back on the mound soon.

Hill filled in for Gray in the season opener after Gray was scratched, due to food poisoning, but his command on the mound also has him filling in for Gray in as the A’s 2016 CY Young candidate. He currently leads the American League with a 2.25 ERA and is second in the league with eight wins.

Hill is an MLB journeyman who signed with the A’s this past offseason on a one-year, $6 million dollar deal. The 36-year-old lefty has played for the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Cleveland Indians, Baltimore Oriole, and Boston Red Sox. He, not Gray, has been the lone bright spot amongst the starting pitchers.

Jesse Hahn, Kendal Gravemen, Chris Bassit, Sean Manaea and Eric Surkamp are the other pitchers to take the mound for the Athletics this season. They all have ERA’s over 4 and have recorded just eight quality starts, equal to that that Hill has thrown. Starting pitching has been something the A’s have been able to rely upon in the past, but this year has been a much different story.

The bullpen has done its part, providing stability for the Athletics. In a similar fashion to the starting pitching rotation, closer Sean Doolittle was expected to be the go-to guy. However, after early season struggles, he was pulled from the role by manager Bob Melvin. Free agent signee Ryan Madson has replaced him and has done a stellar job, recording 12 saves. Reliever John Axford, another free agent signee, has been one of the best setup men in baseball this season.

The Athletics offense has also benefited from the play of a free agent signee, outfielder Khris Davis. He leads the team in home runs at 14, runs batted in at 34 and 95 total bases. He had one of hottest bats in baseball in May, highlighted by a three-homerun game versus the Texas Rangers where Davis hit a walk-off grand slam.

Besides Davis, injuries have hurt the A’s offense. Josh Reddick, the team’s most consistent bat and leader in batting average, suffered a fractured left thumb in the middle of May. He is expected to be out until July.

The A’s other offensive star, Danny Valencia, also spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with a left hamstring strain. He came back early last month, highlighted by another Athletics three home run game.

The Athletics recently held a players-only meeting, according to Davis, to figure out what would be the identity of their team going forward. Some of the older players, such as Hill, Madson and Coco Crisp wanted the younger players to know they believed in them and thought they could get the job done. They also wanted to make sure that they were giving maximum effort, reminding the younger players that they are at the end of their careers.

Since the meeting, the A’s are 2-1 and posted a season high 12 runs last Saturday at home vs. the Detroit Tigers. Maybe this meeting will serve as a turning point in the A’s season. It’s not too late for them, as they only sit 7.5 games behind the division leading Rangers, but the urgency is definitely there. The Athletics begin a nine-game road trip tomorrow night versus the Houston Astros.