Sonny Gray

Moral victories aren’t enough for the A’s right now

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OAKLAND – The A’s pulled together one of those mad, late-inning rallies Tuesday that they seem to have a trademark on.

It was a commendable effort that came up just short in a 6-5 loss to the Seattle Mariners. And while the A’s always score points for the heart they show in battling back, the fact of the matter is that the hourglass is running low on this team.

The A’s aren’t going to win many games when their starting pitcher gives up six runs and they don’t advance a runner past first base until the eighth inning.

[RECAP: Gray roughed up, Mariners edge A’s 6-5]

This is still a team that’s searching for ways to score runs consistently, especially against left-handed starters, which means they need their starting pitching to be air-tight. Sonny Gray, so terrific against the Mariners in five previous starts against them, was hardly his sharpest. He gave up a season high-tying six earned runs on seven hits over five innings, though he had the backing of his manager after Tuesday’s game.

“I thought he pitched better than the numbers would suggest,” Bob Melvin said.

You can dissect Gray’s outing and explain away much of the bad. Austin Jackson hardly crushed his two-run single that got Seattle on the board in the third, but that rally began with Gray issuing two walks to begin the inning.

In the fourth, Endy Chavez hit a chopper up the middle that leaked past a drawn-in infield, but Gray also allowed Kendrys Morales’ single and Logan Morrison’s hard-hit double to set the table for Chavez’s hit.

Then Kyle Seager’s two-run homer in the fifth came on a 1-0 fastball that Gray was trying to spot inside but caught too much of the plate. That made it 6-0, which ended up being too much for the A’s to overcome – barely.

Gray was asked if he thought he pitched better than the numbers indicated.

“I don’t know,” he said. “The final numbers are all that matters.”

Mariners left-hander James Paxton was dialed in Tuesday, and he probably would have been a handful for any lineup. But the A’s struggles against him – just four hits over 7 2/3 innings – once again highlighted one of their biggest weaknesses.

This is a team that struggles mightily against left-handed starting pitching. The A’s are hitting just .240 against lefties overall this season, lowest in the American League, and they’re 4-10 against lefty starters since the All-Star break.

“Look at the quality of starters … any American League left-hander, especially here in the West, they’re not going to be a slouch,” A’s catcher Derek Norris said. “You look at the guy tonight, he’s running up to 99 mph on our (stadium) gun, which is slow. I wouldn’t focus too much on the negatives but focus on the positives that we were one swing away from winning the ballgame tonight.”

Very true, but it doesn’t excuse the six-run deficit the A’s had to overcome in the first place. Or plays such as Chavez’s double, a slow-hit ball to center where neither shortstop Jed Lowrie nor second baseman Alberto Callaspo covered second base, and Chavez wound up with a double.

The A’s lost a chance to gain a game on the first-place Los Angeles Angels, who lost at Houston. And considering they’re facing a 4 ½ game deficit with just 24 left to play, every missed opportunity to gain ground is magnified.

They get their chance to bounce back behind Jon Lester on Wednesday afternoon. Taking the mound for Seattle? Cy Young candidate Felix Hernandez.

The runs won’t be easy to come by against him either, and the A’s won’t be picky about how they generate them. When the hourglass is running low, wins are wins no matter how they come.

Astros sign Carlos Beltran to one-year, $16 million deal

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 9: Carlos Beltran #36 of the Texas Rangers hits an RBI against the Toronto Blue Jays in the first inning during game three of the American League Division Series at Rogers Centre on October 9, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The Astros have reportedly agreed to terms with free agent DH/outfielder Carlos Beltran for a one-year, $16 million contract, per ESPN’s Buster Olney. The deal includes a complete no-trade clause, according to a report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today.

Beltran elected to return to the Astros after fielding offers from the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. He appeared in Houston during the second half of 2004, batting .258/.368/.559 with 23 home runs in 399 PA and making his first postseason run to the tune of a .435 average and eight homers as the Astros battled their way through to a seven-game loss in the Championship Series. Beltran also played with Houston manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora in separate stints with the Royals and Mets, which the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan cited as possible influences in the Astros’ decision to pursue the free agent.

In 2016, Beltran split the season between the Yankees and Rangers after getting dealt at the deadline for a package of right-handed pitching prospects. He was stationed in right field for the majority of his time in New York, but was almost exclusively utilized as a designated hitter over 52 games in Texas. Between the two clubs, he batted an impressive .295/.337/.513 with 29 homers and earned his ninth career All-Star designation to boot.

The veteran slugger is expected to fill a similar role on the Astros, who need a full-time DH but could use some additional support in the outfield corner. Olney envisions a lineup with Beltran in the five-spot, per an earlier report:

Rays and Braves reportedly interested in Welington Castillo

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Welington Castillo #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits an RBI double in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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Catcher Welington Castillo was non-tendered by the Diamondbacks on Friday, making him one of 35 additional players to enter the free agent pool. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Castillo was drawing interest from the Rays, among a bevy of major league clubs, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien added that the Braves have “some interest” as well.

The Rays’ trifecta of catchers — Curt Casali, Luke Maile, and Bobby Wilson — did little to inspire confidence behind the plate in 2016, and with top free agent Wilson Ramos sidelined after suffering a torn ACL in September, it makes sense that they’d explore more affordable options. Castillo profiled well at the plate during his first full season with the Diamondbacks, slashing .264/.322/.423 with 14 home runs in 457 PA. Behind the dish, he placed third among all qualified major league catchers with seven DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), though his league-leading 10 passed balls weren’t anything to write home about.

Unlike the Rays, the Braves have a serviceable catching platoon in Tyler Flowers and Anthony Recker. Beyond that, their catching depth is fairly shallow despite the recent addition of former Mariners’ outfield prospect Alex Jackson. Jackson, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mark Bradley, has not played behind the plate since high school, though GM John Coppolella is reportedly interested in trying him there again. A.J. Pierzynski is also rumored to be seeking a deal elsewhere in free agency, which could open the door for a multi-year deal with Castillo.