OAKLAND, Calif. -- Sonny Gray was on a streak of six starts giving up zero or one earned run, so when he gets kicked around as he was in the A's 7-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Wednesday, it's easy enough to dismiss that as an aberration.
It's less easy to be quite as charitable with Oakland's offense, which has gone from potent to placid in the last week or so.
Matched up against Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson, the A's were facing an often-injured pitcher who had made only three big league starts this season and who had not thrown five innings in any of them. Oakland got only one baserunner in the first five innings, a leadoff single in the fourth by Coco Crisp.
This is an ongoing, if recent, issue for the A's. Oakland leads the majors in runs with 552, but little of that has been seen in the last nine games when the A's have scored 28 times, an average of just over three runs per game.
In the first four months of the season, the A's went down in order in the first three innings only three times. In the first six games of this homestand it has happened four times, including Wednesday.
Is it about seeing Yoenis Cespedes traded to Boston for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes? Maybe a little, but the problems were in evidence before Cespedes got a new address. In the half dozen games before he was traded the A's were averaging 4.3 runs per game. In the 101 games to that point, the runs-per-game average was 5.0.
Much of the problem is the A's just aren't working pitchers as well as they had been. The first 101 games saw them draw 3.8 walks per game. Since then it's down to 2.9 (35 in 12 games). That can be traced at some level to the A's seeing 152 pitches per game in the first 101 games and 142 on average since.
Oakland's only offense against Hellickson was Eric Sogard's first homer in 110 games dating back to July 21, 2013. Sogard, batting with one out in the sixth, yanked the ball down the right-field line, and the ball had enough on it to stay just barely fair.
There was no threat beyond that until the ninth inning when, with former A's closer Grant Balfour on the mound, Josh Donaldson singled to center with two out. Brandon Moss followed with the A's first walk of the day and Josh Reddick doubled in two runs.
Gray had an infield single and a bunt get him into trouble in the second, and a routine grounder to second base from Kevin Kiermaier pushed a run home for Tampa in the second. The right-hander went completely out of character in the third inning, walking the bases loaded, but he was able to escape having the inning implode on him.
There was nothing routine about Kiermaier's second at-bat. He came up in the fourth with a man on first and hit the first pitch he saw out, just clearing the out-of-town scoreboard in right.
The Rays added a run in the fourth on Evan Longoria's two-out RBI single, and Tampa Bay knocked out Gray in the fifth.
A single, an error and a hit batter loaded the bases before Desmond Jennings singled to center, good for two runs and a 6-0 lead. Jesse Chavez came out of the bullpen and was stung by a single that let in a seventh run. The 10 hits and seven runs off Gray were career highs.
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