OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Yoenis Cespedes is gone to Boston and the Oakland Athletics are slumping without their former slugger.
Josh Reddick is a bright spot in the lineup and continues a recent tear, getting a two-run double in the ninth inning of a 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday that cost the AL West leaders a sweep.
“We couldn’t get anything going. Our lineup continues to struggle,” Reddick said. “We know we have a good lineup with or without Cespedes. We miss him. Someone has to step up. We haven’t done that yet. We have to keep grinding.”
The A’s acquired ace Jon Lester in last Thursday’s trade deadline deal that sent Cespedes out of town, and the pitcher starts again Thursday.
The Rays handed reigning AL Pitcher of the Month Sonny Gray (12-5) his second straight defeat following a 5-0 July in which he had a 1.03 ERA. This is the second time Gray has lost consecutive outings in his first full major league season, also to Baltimore and the Yankees on June 7 and 13.
“When you put your team in a hole like that, you’re putting a lot of pressure on the offense,” said Gray, tagged for a career-high 10 hits. “That’s tough to climb out of.”
Kevin Kiermaier hit a two-run homer to help Jeremy Hellickson end a six-start winless stretch for his first victory in 11 months.
Hellickson (1-1) allowed two hits and one run in seven innings, struck out three and walked none. He hadn’t reached five innings in any of his previous three starts this year or in five outings dating to the end of the 2013 season. The 2011 AL Rookie of the Year returned late last month following rehab for the January elbow operation.
Kiermaier’s first-pitch homer in the fourth was just the ninth surrendered this year by Gray, who came into Wednesday with a 1-0 record and 0.61 ERA in two career starts against the Rays.
Hellickson retired the first nine A’s hitters in order before Coco Crisp’s leadoff single in the fourth, then the right-hander recorded seven more outs in a row.
“That looked like the Rookie of the Year Hellickson,” manager Joe Maddon said. “My thought is now that he’s done it once he can really take off.”
Eric Sogard broke that up with a sixth-inning homer, snapping a career-high 110-game homerless streak dating to July 21, 2013. Josh Reddick added a two-run double in the ninth off former A’s closer Grant Balfour.
Gray plunked Kiermaier in the fifth to load the bases and Desmond Jennings followed with a two-run single to chase the right-hander after a season-low 4 1-3 innings. Jesse Chavez, moved to the bullpen when Lester arrived, worked 3 2-3 innings.
Oakland’s No. 3-4 hitters of Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss went a combined 1 for 7.
“We’ve seen a stretch where we scored double-digit runs,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We’re not doing that right now. We’re not getting consistent at bats like we’ve been getting.”
Moss is mired in an 0-for-17 funk that matches the longest hitless streak of his career, also done in September 2010.
“If we keep getting guys on base, we’re going to do what we do,” Reddick said. “We’ve got to get out of our rut.”
The Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority approved the Athletics’ 10-year lease deal that keeps the club in Oakland for now — a formality in the deal reached last month.
Rays: Catcher Jose Molina took a foul tip on his right arm in the third but stayed in the game.
Athletics: Melvin said shortstop Jed Lowrie could be back from a bruised right index finger for Thursday’s series opener with the Twins.
Rays: After an off-day in Chicago, RHP Chris Archer (7-6, 3.42 ERA) pitches Friday’s opener of a weekend series at Wrigley Field to close out interleague play.
Athletics: LHP Lester (11-7, 2.59) is 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA over nine starts since a June 7 loss at Detroit.
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