Sheets' short outing sends A's to finale loss
Right-hander allows nine runs on 10 hits over just 3 1/3 innings
TORONTO -- Perhaps the only thing worse than leaving an East Coast road trip accompanied by a 1-5 record is walking away with a 1-5 record and a crowded disabled list with more players on it than when the team first departed.
And perhaps the only thing worse than the latter situation is having to ponder it all on a five-plus-hour plane ride back to the West Coast.
Such was the case, though, for a depleted A's team, which fell, 9-3, in Sunday's rubber match against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
As a result, said plane ride is sure to be a silent one. After all, Ben Sheets -- the club's unofficial vocal leader -- likely won't be doing much talking following his rough performance that brought back memories of another poor outing that came ... well, five days earlier.
The A's right-hander, who surrendered eight runs in five frames against the Rays on Tuesday, more than equaled that total against the Blue Jays while upping his ERA to 7.12. Sheets was lifted after just 3 1/3 innings, having given up nine runs and 10 hits -- eight of them for extra bases -- while walking two and fanning two. Sheets (1-3) offered up three homers in a short-lived outing he deemed "really, really bad," and he has now given up five taters in his past two starts after surrendering just one through his previous four.
"My location is terrible," Sheets said. "You can't throw the ball in the middle of the plate in the big leagues. I don't think I could throw a ball that's not in the middle of the plate to a Little Leaguer right now. They hit the ball hard. Their outs were hard. Everything was hard.
"I wouldn't say my location's been this bad ever since my rookie year. I think if you've got stuff, you can [get away with not hitting your spots] a little more. My stuff's not bad, but it's not unbelievable either."
The last time the 31-year-old Sheets gave up nine runs was in August 2005 against the Rockies, when he surrendered 10 runs in six frames. He also gave up nine in 3 2/3 innings against the Padres in 2001. In his past two starts, the four-time All-Star has now given up 17 runs -- a number that accounts for almost half of the earned runs given up by A's starters during the road trip (35).
Manager Bob Geren echoed his pitcher's sentiments on the root of his struggles at the moment, also noting a positive in that Sheets' velocity and health are unquestionably very much present.
"I've tried to look at it and talk to everyone, and it just seems like his location is off," Geren said.
As desperately as Sheets wants to return to his old All-Star self -- the one that led a Milwaukee pitching staff in almost every category before undergoing elbow surgery last year -- he admitted he can't pinpoint why he's truly having to battle every single opponent.
"I don't know," he said. "I feel good, I feel healthy. I don't know what the difference is between me now and me then. I don't think my stuff's bounced all the way back. People see I'm throwing 93 [mph] and think I'm back, but it's not the same.
"I can't even get in a rhythm of having fun out there. Every pitch I've thrown out there, I've been buried down. I feel like if I can get location and get into a rhythm and get people out -- I don't care if they hit three bullets to the shortstop -- I think I could get into a groove and be a lot better."
Sheets also believes he'll walk a gradual path of improvement as he continues to find a comfort zone in the American League, a place that has appeared somewhat foreign to the new A's pitcher this year. At the same time, he's not about to make any excuses.
"Coming to a new league, it's kind of like you're a rookie all over again," Sheets said. "There's no comfort zone. You try to go off the scouting reports, but you also try to stay true to yourself. I feel like as I see them more, I'll be better. But I gotta be better than this.
"I feel like my stuff is right there. My stuff's fine. My breaking ball is not fine. My breaking ball is absolutely hitting a wall every time I throw it. I'll keep working on that and try to get it breaking like I know it should."
Sheets' rough go at it Sunday didn't exactly put his club in a winning situation early, but it's not like Oakland's offense lent him much help, either. Down, 6-0, entering the fourth frame, Rajai Davis finally put a run on the board with an RBI single. But the A's left the bases loaded in the inning against Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum, who limited his opponents to one run, five hits and three walks while striking out six through 6 1/3 solid innings of work.
The A's again left runners in scoring position in the seventh before tagging reliever Rommie Lewis for two runs in the eighth courtesy of a two-run single from Adam Rosales, who went 2-for-2 with two walks in the game. That's all Oakland could muster off Toronto's bullpen, though, as A's relievers Brad Kilby and Craig Breslow combined for 4 2/3 shutout innings.
Oakland, which limps home to the Bay Area for a six-game homestand beginning Monday against division-foe Texas, currently has nine players on a crowded disabled list -- the most recent addition being catcher Kurt Suzuki (intercostal strain). Furthermore, the club will await news on Justin Duchscherer, who is scheduled to visit Dr. Thomas Byrd in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday to assess the damage done on his strained left hip.
Needless to say, home is sounding pretty darn good right about now for a team that has lost nine of its last 12.
"It's always nice to get back home," Geren said.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.