Since the start of last year, the Oakland Athletics simply do not score more than three runs against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Well-rested Rays starter Nathan Karns hopes to help maintain that streak and post his third straight win Saturday when he faces the stumbling Athletics for the first time.
Oakland won four of six games against Tampa Bay in 2014 despite scoring three runs or fewer in all of them. The Athletics haven’t been as fortunate in this four-game set, with their only runs through two games coming in Friday’s 5-2 defeat. They also have failed to score more than three in eight straight in Tampa, going 2-6.
Oakland has averaged fewer than three runs (2.94) while losing 14 of 16 overall. The club’s record through 44 games is the worst for any team the year after reaching the postseason since the 1998 Florida Marlins also began 14-30.
"We don’t have that, ‘Here we go again’ personality. That’s when stuff just snowballs," losing pitcher Scott Kazmir said Friday. "I feel like we’re out there positive, thinking about the next at-bat. I think that’s all you can do when you’re struggling like we are."
Karns (3-1, 3.77 ERA) has not pitched since allowing two runs in five innings in a 3-2 win over the New York Yankees on May 13. He was originally slated to start Tuesday in Atlanta but had his outing pushed back to give him additional rest.
The right-hander is 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA in seven outings since losing his season debut to Baltimore. He has allowed one homer in his last 21 2/3 innings after yielding five in his first 23 2/3 and is third in the league in opponent batting average at .196.
Karns leads all rookies with 44 strikeouts as he faces an Oakland club that has struck out 21 times in this series. Brett Lawrie is 2 for 8 with four strikeouts in those two games, and Billy Burns is 1 for 13 with five strikeouts in the last three.
The Athletics figure to re-insert shortstop Marcus Semien in the lineup. He did not start Friday and has been working with former Texas manager Ron Washington, brought on as a special instructor to help Semien cut down on his major league-high 16 errors.
Semien homered off Karns last year with the Chicago White Sox.
Oakland is a major league-worst 1-13 in day games with 30 of its 39 homers at night.
Tampa Bay (24-19) has outhomered Oakland 4-1 in this series, with three Rays connecting Friday. Evan Longoria had the big blow with a three-run shot in the fifth inning to erase a 1-0 deficit.
The bullpen came up big from there and has posted a 1.35 ERA in the last 10 games, walking nine and striking out 39 over 33 1/3 innings. The Rays are 7-3 in that span.
"That’s what’s nice about playing on a good team: your teammates bail you out," starter Chris Archer said. "The fact that our bullpen is the best in baseball, that’s comforting."
Oakland will recall Kendall Graveman (1-2, 8.27) from Triple-A Nashville to start this game in his second 2015 stint with the club. He was sent to the minors April 26 the day after he was tagged for six runs over 4 2/3 innings in a 9-3 defeat to Houston.
The right-hander went 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA in four starts at Nashville, yielding two runs in seven innings Sunday. He has never faced the Rays.
Billy Butler’s .229 average at Tampa is his worst in an AL city. Tropicana Field is the closest major league stadium to his hometown in the Jacksonville area.