Covering the Bases: Game 42

0516McAFinal: A’s 11, Indians 1

FIRST: Cleveland’s rotation has had better days than Friday.

The evening began with the news that the Indians had understandably demoted struggling starter Danny  Salazar to Triple-A. The night ended with a lopsided loss carved from a clunker of an outing from Zach McAllister.

What was so perplexing about McAllister’s night was the brilliant manner in which it began. The righty set down Coco Crisp, John Jaso and Josh Donaldson in order to open the game, striking each of them out and throwing 11 of his first 16 pitches for strikes.

“Boy, the first inning, he came out really good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He threw some of his better breaking balls that we’ve seen. He kind of had some power to it.”

And then in the second inning…

Well, let’s just say that the swiftness with which McAllister fell apart was historic. According to research through baseball-reference.com’s Play Index, it marked the first time in the past 100 years of baseball that a Major League starter struck out the side in order in the first before allowing at least eight runs in the second, among pitchers with no more than two innings logged.

In 1.1 innings of work, McAllister was charged with eight runs on five hits with three walks, three strikeouts and two home runs. He ended with 54 pitches, including 29 strikes.

As our friends over at LetsGoTribe.com pointed out, McAllister’s performance netted a negative game score (-4). That made it only the sixth negative game score by an Indians pitcher, dating back to at least 1914. That list includes Charles Nagy (-1 on Aug. 14, 1998), Bob Feller (-15 on Aug. 26, 1938), Oral Hildebrand (-4 on July 14, 1935), Johnny Miljus (-26 on July 25, 1929) and Joe Shaute (-1 on June 16, 1925).

McAllister’s was only the ninth game score of -4 or worse with no more than 1.1 innings logged in the past 100 years of box scores. The last such occurrence was on Aug. 17, 2008, when Brian Bannister accomplished that dubious feat for Kansas City.

The second inning went as follows: double (Brandon Moss), single (Yoenis Cespedes), RBI single (Jed Lowrie), walk (Derek Norris), grand slam (Josh Reddick), groundout (Eric Sogard), walk (Crisp), walk (Jaso), three-run homer (Donaldson).

“In the second inning of a game,” Francona said, “you want to give a guy a chance to get through it. Maybe he can gather himself. Even if you go four [innings], you’re not into your bullpen in your second inning. But, it just wasn’t happening.”

With that loss, McAllister’s season ERA ballooned from 3.89 to 5.36. The righty is now 0-4 with an 8.72 ERA in his last five starts (all five were losses for the Indians). In that span, he has 24 strikeouts and 10 walks with a .303 (27-for-89) opponents’ average. The eight runs on Friday certainly skews things there, but it’s still a dramatic drop-off from his first four starts of the year. In that time period, he went 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA and .233 (21-for-90) opponents’ average. Cleveland won all four games and he had 17 strikeouts and seven walks.

“I know I haven’t pitched my best,” McAllister said. “Obviously, you’re going to have some peaks and valleys. Right now, I’m down, as far as the way I’ve been pitching lately. I know I’ve got to get back up to that middle ground and pitch better.”

Francona said McAllister’s task now is to ignore the numbers and weather the current storm.

“[He has] to be strong enough mentally to understand that he is a good pitcher,” Francona said. “It might take a while to get that ERA to where he’s comfortable, but that doesn’t mean he can’t win.”

SECOND: No one expected rookie lefty Kyle Crockett to reach the Majors as fast as he did. He was called up from Double-A Akron on Friday, making him the first player from the 20013 Draft to reach the Majors. So, it seemed fitting that Crockett’s MLB debut came sooner than expected, too.

Once McAllister’s struggles reached the tipping point, Francona brought the 22-year-old Crockett into the contest with one out in the second inning. The left-hander started with a walk to Moss, but quickly recovered by inducing an inning-ending doubleplay groundout from Cespedes. Francona let Crockett stay on the hill in the third, and he gave up a leadoff homer to Lowrie and a single to Norris before retiring the final two batters he faced.

“I thought he was nervous, which is to be expected,” Francona said. “Once he gave up the home run, I thought he settled down a little bit and actually threw the ball like he can. He’ll be a command guy. Tonight, he was yanking some pitches. I thought it was good to get that first one out of the way for him and let him settle in.”

THIRD: A’s right-hander Sonny Gray (5-1, 2.10 ERA) is good enough without a huge pile of run support. So, once the right-hander had an 8-1 lead, he pounded the strike zone and cruised through six  frames en route to the win. Gray struck out nine, walked three and scattered two hits.

“He’s a pretty special pitcher,” Francona said. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he can cut it, sink it, breaking ball. A lot of our thinking today was, ‘Hey, when you get the first fastball, if it’s middle, go ahead and whack it, because he doesn’t give you much after that.’

“Then, when you get a lead like he had, that kind of plays right into [his hand]. After the first time through the order, man, he’d get to two strikes and he’d just put us away. He’s got so many weapons. The big breaking ball. He’s got a fastball with movement and he commands so well.”

HOME: Not only did McAllister come out firing in the first inning, the Indians’ received a solo homer from Nick Swisher (his first blast since April 12) in the opening frame to grab a quick lead. It’s amazing, though, how a game can feel over only a half-inning later. Following Oakland’s eight-run outburst, Cleveland’s offense went 2-for-26 with 12 strikeouts. The Indians had as many errors (two) in the field as hits off Gray and the A’s had more home runs (three) than the Tribe had runners in scoring position.

There were few positives to be found in this one. The blowout did give Francona the chance to get Crockett his first appearance in the Majors, and the opportunity to get Mike Aviles and Jesus Aguilar their first career work in center field and at third base, respectively. Carlos Carrasco also helped save the bullpen some bullets by eating up the final four innings.

Links:

On deck:

A’s (26-16) at Indians (19-23)
at 7:05 p.m. ET  Saturday at Progressive Field

–JB

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