A’s bullpen implosion spoils Marco Estrada’s strong start in loss to Angels

OAKLAND — When drawing up the different ways to lose a baseball game in 2019, the A’s don’t expect to lose many in this fashion.

After six shutout innings from Marco Estrada and a two-run home run by Khris Davis appeared to have the A’s on track to victory, a rare implosion by the bullpen derailed them in Friday’s 6-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

“We feel good about when our bullpen is in the game and we have the lead, especially after the sixth inning,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “It just didn’t happen today.”

The A’s were 70-2 in 2018 when leading after seven innings. They are now halfway to that loss total in such situations after four regular season games in 2019.

The blueprint to victory that worked the day before was in place. Lou Trivino had turned in a scoreless seventh and it was time for Joakim Soria to do his part in preserving a two-run cushion. But he immediately ran into trouble to begin the eighth as he surrendered three consecutive hits to cut the A’s (1-3) lead to 2-1 at the time. After walking Mike Trout to load the bases with no outs, Melvin went to left-hander Ryan Buchter to face a lefty in Justin Bour. Buchter walked Bour, which tied the game, and Liam Hendriks quickly allowed a two-run single to Andrelton Simmons coming on in relief of Buchter to put the Angels ahead by two.

“Soria always seems to find a way to get out of it and today it just was not the case,” Melvin said. “They put three pretty good swings on him right away so we tried to match up after that. The second pitch Buchter threw might have been a strike but it’s his job the get that guy out.”

The four runs in the eighth were all charged to Soria, which is a career-high in runs allowed over a game in his 12-year big league career

“It’s tough when you see your starter go deep in the game like that and you can’t hold it,” Soria said. “They went after me. I threw five pitches and they scored four runs. It’s tough to digest, but you have to make quality pitches in order to get outs.”

It took the Angels (1-1) just six at-bats against three different A’s pitchers to flip the game upside down.

Estrada looked sharp in his home debut. The right-hander held the Angels hitless through the first three innings and departed the game after 77 pitches and having allowed just two hits and two walks with three strikeouts over six innings of work.

“I was willing to let him go out for the seventh. But once we took the lead, I had some guys lined up,” Melvin said. “But similar to Fiers yesterday, he gave us everything we expect.”

Estrada is known to be a flyball pitcher. His 24 percent groundball rate in 2018 was the lowest of any starter in the majors. It’s a style that can create problems in stadiums where the ball really travels, like what happened to him at the Tokyo Dome last week against the Seattle Mariners when he allowed two home runs over five innings. But at the Coliseum, Estrada should have much more success.

The first eight outs Estrada recorded were fly balls, as were 12 of his 18 total outs.

“I’m a big fly ball pitcher and it showed today,” Estrada said, recalling a fly ball hit by Mike Trout that may have been a home run at his former home ballpark in Toronto. “It’s nice to have a big ballpark. That’s a tough lineup to face over there and they were aggressive. Not only the ballpark, but the defense behind me was great. Every ball that was up in the air, I knew it would be caught.”

Estrada is looking to rebound from a rough 2018, which falls in line with A’s free agent signings in years past. Last year it was Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson who resurrected their careers in Oakland. Now the 35-year-old Estrada is trying to get back to his 2016 All-Star form on a one-year deal with the A’s.

“He’s been a really good pitcher and the way we were doing things this year, we weren’t going to be able to spend a whole lot on starting pitching,” Melvin said. “You have to find a guy looking to have a bounce-back year.”

Estrada would have liked to go longer than six innings. But with a bullpen that was one of the most dominant in baseball last year, he had no issues with Melvin pulling him after six.

“You always want to go deeper,” Estrada said. “I wanted to keep going, but with that bullpen behind me, you don’t blame the manager for kind of having a short leash. And it’s early, so we’re still building up our pitch count. But I want to go nine every game, give the most innings as possible.”

Davis appears to be on a mission to repeat as Major League Baseball’s home run king for a second consecutive season.

The A’s slugger provided the team’s only two runs of the night after he blasted a two-run home run to left field in the sixth inning. It was his third home run in what was just the fourth regular season game of 2019 and second in as many games.

Davis has homered more than any other player in baseball over the past three seasons. Most of those balls go to the opposite field, but Davis’ homer off Matt Harvey was pulled to left and landed well beyond the left-field scoreboard. His home run the day before was also a majestic shot to left that landed in the second deck of the Coliseum.

“He’s a strong kid. It’s been impressive to watch him hit these mistakes,” said Estrada, who was a teammate of Davis earlier in his career with the Milwaukee Brewers. “I think they left the ball up and he crushed it. It’s fun to watch now because I don’t have to pitch against him.”

Fernando Rodney’s two-run double surrendered to Trout in the ninth extended the Angels lead to 6-2.

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