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Injuries will test A’s in stretch run


OAKLAND – Depth has been a major key to the A’s success this year, and it’s going to play a huge factor over the final five weeks of the regular season.

Injuries are eating away at the A’s roster at an inopportune time, to the point where Sunday’s 9-4 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels wasn’t even the worst news of the day.

Before they took the field, the A’s absorbed the news that closer Sean Doolittle was headed to the 15-day disabled list with a strained right intercostal (side) muscle. He’s expected to miss a minimum of two weeks.

[RELATED: A’s place Doolittle on disabled list; Otero recalled]

Catcher John Jaso will join the seven-day concussion D.L. on Monday, but it’s unknown how much time he will miss. Josh Donaldson’s MRI on Sunday showed no structural damage in his left knee, but although there’s no plan to put the All-Star third baseman on the D.L., it’s unclear if he’ll return to the lineup immediately.

The A’s already were without starting shortstop Jed Lowrie and middle infielder Nick Punto, and there’s no immediate timetable for their return either. And keeping with the theme of the day, outfielder Sam Fuld wore an ice pack on his left knee after the game. He hyper-extended the knee when he landed awkwardly trying to catch Erick Aybar’s first-inning double off the wall Sunday. Fuld will be re-evaluated Monday.

Injuries are something every team contends with over the course of the season, and how the A’s compensate for the current crop of health setbacks will play heavily into whether they can outlast the Angels and Seattle Mariners in the American League West.

Oakland trails the Angels by one game with 33 left to play, while the Mariners are six back.

“I think we’ll respond well,” starting pitcher Scott Kazmir said. “Those are key guys that are out right now. We’ve got a couple other guys that are banged up too, so we know that we need to step our game up a little bit more. I think we’ll do that.”

Kazmir (14-6) lamented his lack of command after he got shelled for a season high-tying seven runs and 10 hits in just three-plus innings. The A’s were behind 8-0 by the fourth, and with the way Angels right-hander Jered Weaver was throwing, there was no climbing back into this one. “I hit maybe one spot the entire game,” Kazmir said. “There were some situations where I felt like I’d be able to take control a little bit, and I’d throw two strikes, get ahead of a guy, and then just throw a ball right down the middle.

[RECAP: Angels chase Kazmir early as A’s lose 9-4]

“I felt like I just wasn’t aggressive enough. I was kind of trying to trick people out there, throwing curveballs, sliders and changeups instead of just really focusing on my fastball and establishing that.”

Sweeping the Angels would have been quite a story, but taking two of three and gaining one game in the standings for the weekend is acceptable for Oakland. The A’s travel to Houston for three games starting Monday – they dropped two of three at Minute Maid Park last month – and then they head to Anaheim for a four-game rematch with the Angels that starts Thursday.

Donaldson’s status is critical, but the A’s also have to hold down the fort at the back of the bullpen with Doolittle out. A’s manager Bob Melvin said he has a ‘Plan B’ formulated but wanted to talk with the relievers involved Monday before announcing it. Luke Gregerson and Dan Otero have closed games this season, and Ryan Cook has closing experience from seasons past.

[RELATED: Recent health issues confronting multiple A’s]

Doolittle, who injured his side on his final two pitches of Saturday night’s game, said there’s no firm return date that he and the training staff are eyeing. Intercostal strains typically take anywhere from two to several weeks to heal.

“Timetables can be frustrating,” the All-Star closer said. “As soon as you miss one, that can be really frustrating mentally. We’re gonna take it day to day. It’s probably something we have a better handle on once we start moving around and doing some stuff later on in the week.”

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar
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Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.