A’s seek upper hand against Rays, AL East opponents

MLB

The Oakland Athletics will continue what’s been a break-even sequence against American League East competition when they open a three-game home series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.

The clubs will be meeting in Oakland for the first time since the Rays ended the A’s 2019 season with a 5-1 win in the American League wild-card game.

Left-hander Sean Manaea (3-1, 3.48 ERA) started that game for Oakland and was rocked for four runs in two-plus innings, including two homers by Yandy Diaz and one by Avisail Garcia.

Manaea got the better of the Rays in a 2-1 win when the clubs split four games in Florida last month. He held Tampa Bay to one run and four hits with six strikeouts over five innings in the 2-1 win, raising his career record against the Rays to 2-1 and lowering his ERA against them to 2.52 in four regular-season starts.

Tampa Bay is scheduled to oppose Manaea in the series opener with left-hander Rich Hill (1-1, 6.39), a former member of the A’s.

Well after the A’s were beaten 10-4 at home by the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon, the Rays used a seven-run eighth inning to rally past the host Los Angeles Angels at night to complete a four-game sweep at the start of a seven-game trip.

Mike Zunino, whose father Greg was a high school and college standout in the San Francisco Bay Area, homered in the win, which was Tampa Bay’s fifth in a row.

The A’s and Rays, who did not see each other last year because of the regional scheduling in a shortened season, played with a playoff-type intensity when Oakland recorded 2-1 and 3-2 wins to bookend 4-3 and 2-0 defeats in the earlier series at Tampa Bay.

Hill had the misfortune of drawing Manaea in the opener of that series. He was saddled with his only loss of the season despite giving up just two runs and two hits in six innings with 10 strikeouts.

Sean Murphy got the big hit off Hill, a two-run home run in the fourth inning.

Hill had endured several health issues and appeared possibly to be headed out of baseball when he signed a free-agent deal with the A’s in November 2015.

He was so good in 14 starts during the 2016 season (9-3 with a 2.25 ERA), the A’s flipped him to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with Josh Reddick for a package of three young pitchers that included Frankie Montas, who has gone on to win 21 games in his budding Oakland career.

Montas is slated to face the Rays on Saturday.

Hill has gone 1-2 with a 4.20 ERA in seven career meetings with the A’s, including three starts.

After a slow start to the 2021 season that saw his ERA reach 8.82, he’s allowed just two runs in his past nine innings.

“Just better location, better expansion of the zone on 0-2 pitches and 1-2 pitches,” Hill explained. “The ability to mix the cutter in more, too, has made a big difference.”

The 41-year-old will be facing an Oakland club that has played its past 14 games against AL East teams, going 3-3 against Baltimore, 2-2 against Tampa Bay and 2-2 against Toronto.

A’s center fielder Ramon Laureano has gone 17-for-53 (.321) in those games, belting six homers. And he’s not done, Oakland’s Bob Melvin insisted.

“He’s been consistent the entire year and just works to get better and better,” the manager said. “My guess is he’s got more room to grow.”

–Field Level Media

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