Baseball / Sports

Braves drop reeling A's, 7-2

ATLANTA--The Oakland A's have given Jason Hammel seven starts since they acquired him up, along with Jeff Samardzija, from the Cubs on July 4 by sending promising minor leaguers Addison Russell and Billy McKinney to Chicago.

Oakland has lost six of those starts, including Friday's 7-2 defeat in the first of a three-game set against the Atlanta Braves. And the question facing the A's is how much more rope will Hammel be given.

After Hammel lasted four innings, giving up three homers and five runs, manager Bob Melvin wasn't saying. The right-hander came into the game having allowed one run over 12 innings in two previous August starts.

"I would never make any comments about any player 10 minutes after a ballgame regardless," Melvin said. "That's just not something I would comment on ever."

Oakland has options in Jesse Chavez, who was in the rotation until Jon Lester was picked up in a July 31 deal with Boston, and Drew Pomeranz, who gave up two runs or less in six of seven starts between May 7 and June 10, when he broke his hand hitting a clubhouse chair.

Chavez pitched in relief Friday and was stung for two unearned runs when he followed a two-out error by surrendering a home run. Pomeranz is 2-0 in six starts with a 3.12 ERA for Triple-A Sacramento.

Solo homers by Justin Upton and Evan Gettis in the second and a three-run bomb by Freddie Freeman an inning later won't show up well on Hammel's ledger.

"You've got to keep the ball in the yard," Hammel said. "That's the bottom line. Two fastballs on the outer third that were hittable and then a slider to Freeman with guys on base. Three-run homers do some damage. Solo homers you can deal with."

To be sure, this one wasn't all on Hammel. The A's made a few brutal base-running errors--Jonny Gomes getting picked off second base in the first inning when there was a chance to do damage against Braves starter Alex Wood early, then Alberto Callaspo getting doubled off second when he misread a fly ball off the bat of Andy Parrino.

"We were bad," Melvin said. "We didn't play very well pretty much in all facets."

He said Gomes went too far in trying to get a secondary lead off second when he got picked off. The manager said Callaspo thought the ball was hit much lower than it was.

Then there was bottom of the sixth, when first baseman Nate Freiman, whose fourth-inning homer gave the A's their only runs, botched Jason Heyward's routine grounder. Chavez's next pitch was hit out by Phil Gosslin despite a leaping stab above the wall by A's center fielder Coco Crisp. That blast turned an already nasty 5-2 deficit into an imposing 7-2 crevasse.

"I didn't come in and get the ball aggressively enough," Freiman said. "It was hit slow. I let it take one too many hops. That error with the home run gave them back some momentum that we had after we'd closed the deficit to three."

Hammel (1-5 with Oakland) certainly hasn't been the beneficiary of much offense on the part of the A's. Oakland has scored three runs or less in all but one of his starts. It's part of a trend. The A's were averaging 5 runs a game before the Hammel-Samardzija trade. They're scoring 4.5 runs a game since then and, since the trade of Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for Gomes and Lester, the offense is down to 3.7 runs per game.

Catcher Derek Norris said the club's inconsistent offense of late is like "riding a constant wave of baseball. (But) it'll be old news before you know it."

Norris singled and doubled, but the A's had just two other hits (Freiman's homer and Callaspo's single). For the month of August the A's have had six hits or few more times (eight) than not (seven).

"We've been known to have some stretches where we play bad baseball that last about a week," Norris said. "We'll come out of it."

--Crisp lost two balls off the bat, including Freeman's homer in the third. "I jumped and it almost hit me in the head," Crisp said.

--The A's have hit nine August homers or 0.60 per game. They averaged 1.05 homers (112 in 107 games) through July.

--It doesn't seem that the A's are in a hurry to make a waiver wire deal to get more help while infielder Jed Lowrie is sidelined. The plan for now is to give newly promoted Parrino a chance to show what he can do. Oakland still has a few weeks before the next trade deadline comes up, and by that time it's possible Nick Punto (hamstring) and/or Lowrie (finger) could be back, or close to it. Punto is scheduled to do some light jogging this weekend.

(c)2014 Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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