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OAK@MIN: A's relief contributes three perfect frames

MINNEAPOLIS -- The A's have strayed from the scrappy formula that had them hanging around the .500 mark for the majority of the first two months.

At least, that's the way their frustrated manager sees it. After watching his club drop its eighth straight on Wednesday, a 4-0 loss to the Twins, Bob Melvin had no interest in hiding his feelings about a team that has been shut out five times in the past 14 games and nine times overall, most in the Majors.

"We continue to play hard, but we have to fight harder," Melvin said. "There's a difference. I think we just lose a bit of our fight sometimes when things go in the opposite direction early on. That's not the way we've been. Before this stretch right now, we've been a team that's really scrappy, and that's what we were finding our identity with. That's who we believed we were.

"These losing streaks can take on a life of their own, and they're not just going to end because they're going to end. We have to take ownership of it and fight harder and do it. No one's going to feel sorry for you, give you anything. We have to go out and take it. Our spirit just has to be a bit better. We're playing hard. It's not enough."

During their eight-game skid, with the last three losses coming to baseball's worst team, the A's have been outscored 37-12, with a batting average resting well below the Mendoza Line at .172. Power-hitting outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, sidelined on the disabled list with a hand injury, hasn't been around for any of it. Brandon Inge, who missed time with a strained groin, returned just Monday. Both are expected to be in the lineup Friday, providing some much-needed offensive help, but Melvin made it clear he hopes his club hasn't simply been waiting rather than doing.

"If so, it's my fault," he said. "I will certainly hope that's not the case."

"When you get on a streak like this, guys kind of want to look over their shoulder rather than taking the bull by the horn or driving the steering wheel," Jonny Gomes said. "Success and failure is contagious. When you're failing, you can say, 'Well, it's no big deal, because everyone's failing.' It has to be a team effort here.

"There are guys who are looking for that fresh blood, that fresh face, but we don't control that. We control what's in here, so we have to not worry about that. At the same time, the guys we did have down weren't the mop-up guy in the bullpen or the platoon guy ... It's going to be nice to have those guys back and take the weight off some of these guys' shoulders."

Oakland's most recent loss included just three hits, all garnered against Twins lefty Francisco Liriano, who struck out nine in six scoreless innings in his first start since May 7, when he was handed his fifth consecutive loss and subsequently sent to the bullpen.

The A's managed to put just one runner on base after the third inning and didn't have one move past second base.

On the other side, less than 24 hours after providing his new club a win with a walk-off three-run homer in the ninth, Josh Willingham again dealt his former team a big blow, this time in the form of a first-inning RBI single and a fifth-inning two-run homer.

It was nearly six months ago when the A's decided they couldn't offer Willingham a long-term contract without having a long-term plan for their future in mind. They wanted an answer to their ongoing stadium issue before handing out commitments.

They never got one, and Willingham, in turn, said thanks but no thanks to their one-year arbitration offer and put his signature on a three-year, $21 million deal with the Twins instead. He is batting .276 with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs for Minnesota.

"We've seen it before," Melvin said. "We didn't make good pitches to him. Tyson [Ross] hangs a slider. Last night, we didn't make a good pitch."

Ross lasted just five innings, with all four Twins runs, along with six hits and three walks, attached to his name. The right-hander is 1-6 with a 7.34 ERA over his past seven starts, and Melvin didn't sound so certain after the mediocre outing that Ross would make his next start with the A's.

That decision isn't his most pressing, though. Melvin held a brief team meeting following Wednesday's loss, though he didn't care to share the details of his message. It would appear easy to assume the underlying memo, though.

"We've put ourselves in position to win games, but we haven't capitalized the way we'd like to," Jemile Weeks said. "I think it will take a team effort to stop this streak, a team mentality. We've had tough at-bats, we've put the ball in play, we've hit balls hard. There's just no stat for that, no stat for any of that. Now, we just have to get the job done. Period. Find a way. Period."

"There's absolutely no reason for us not to come out of this," Gomes said. "This definitely doesn't have to be something etched in stone right now. It wasn't too long ago that we were kinda the talk of the town for a little, playing well, but I think this situation in here -- this team and how it's built, we're not going to sit back and wait on a three-run homer. It's going to have to be a 1-9 effort."

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