OAKLAND — Fans know the operative term when teams start poorly, to wit, “It’s early.”
Literally yes, only two weeks into a major league season that extends six months. Still, early or late, the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers, who on Monday night begin a three-game series at the Oakland Coliseum, are going in the wrong direction.
Both lost their past three games, the A’s dropping one at Kansas City and then two in a row to Houston at home before getting rained out Sunday. The Rangers, meanwhile, were swept in Seattle and thus replaced the Mariners at the bottom of American League West.
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A.J. Griffin is the scheduled Monday starter for Texas, pitching against the team, Oakland, with which he originally signed and first played. The A’s then dropped him after he recovered in 2015 from 2014 Tommy John surgery.
His last outing against the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday was the Rangers’ most recent win. The six-inning, three-run outing was solid for Griffin, who on April 8 scraped the back of his pitching hand sliding to pick up a ground ball — against the Athletics. In that April 7 contest, Griffin (1-0, 6.75 ERA) allowed four runs in 3 1/3 innings.
Opposing Griffin will be rookie Jharel Cotton, who went seven innings in Oakland’s 2-0 win over Kansas City on April 10. It was a performance that had Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez, now a commentator, gushing to a reporter from the San Jose Mercury News.
“Jharel Cotton,” tweeted Martinez, “reminds me of myself. Nasty changeup, nice cutter, same arm angle and rotation. Same grip I used to have.”
Cotton, like Martinez, is 5-foot-11.
In that game, Cotton (1-1, 3.97 ERA) used his fastball the first time through the Royals lineup, then employed the changeup.
“I saved my weapon for last,” Cotton said, “kept it in my pocket, and when I really needed it, used it.”
The A’s very much need it again. Their bullpen was battered by the Astros, who won the first two games of the scheduled weekend three-game series, 7-2 and 10-6. The Sunday game that was postponed was rescheduled for September.
Cotton’s lone outing against Texas came last Sept. 25, when he pitched seven innings of one-run ball for a 7-1 win. The April 7 contest marked Griffin’s first career outing vs. Oakland.
Griffin wasn’t terribly sharp against an Angels team that hit three home runs, but he was effective. He had to work his way into the rotation during spring training. He did the same thing in 2016 and wound up making 23 starts, going 7-4 with a 5.07 ERA.
“I’ve always been a competitive person,” Griffin said last month after the Rangers broke camp. “You’re never going to be given anything in this life. You’ve got to go out and get it for yourself.”
What both the Rangers and Athletics need to get is a few wins in succession. One thing is certain in the opener of this series — a three-game losing streak will end.