ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Anyone who looked at the A's rotation as the season began could tell there would be growing pains.
But if things don't change with their beleaguered starting staff, the A's will find themselves in a hole they can't climb out.
They got whipped by the Tampa Bay Rays 13-4 on Monday at Tropicana Field, dropping them to 0-4 on this seven-game road trip. This time it was right-hander Sean Gallagher creating a mess he couldn't clean up.
He gave up six runs in the first inning alone, unable to find the command on any of his pitches. A's manager Bob Geren called for the hook after just 21/3 innings, the second straight day he's dipped into his bullpen in the third inning.
"Horrible, absolutely terrible," Gallagher said in summing up his night. "I'm an absolute disgrace to myself right now."
The A's inexperienced rotation pitched decently out of the gate in April, but things have taken a turn for the dicey. Oakland's starters entered Monday with a 5.07 ERA and an American League-worst .302 opponents' batting average.
In four games on this trip, the starters have pitched just 181/3 innings and allowed 23 earned runs. Combined with their inconsistent offense, the A's have matched some unwanted historical marks on this trip:
Only Cleveland has a worse record in the AL than the A's 13-22 mark.
"Brutal," designated hitter Jack Cust said. "It's terrible. Whatever bad word you can say about it."
In the first inning, Gallagher walked in a run, hit a batter to score another, gave up a two-run single and watched two more runs score on a passed ball that nailed catcher Kurt Suzuki flush in the left shoulder and bounded away.
On that pitch, Gallagher said he threw a breaking ball that stayed straight as an arrow and caught Suzuki off-guard.
"We've hit a big bump in our pitching," Geren said. "It needs to improve, and it will. Walks aren't acceptable. From Day 1, that was the message in spring training."
Lefty Gio Gonzalez, who was recalled from Triple-A Sacramento and woke up at 4 a.m. to catch a flight to Tampa, relieved Gallagher and struck out six in 32/3 innings. He gave up four runs on six hits and walked three, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him start in Gallagher's place Saturday against Arizona.
The A's have another problem: Backup catcher Landon Powell strained a hamstring while grounding out in the ninth. Besides Powell and Suzuki, there isn't another catcher in the organization currently on the 40-man roster.
The bright spot for the A's was Cust, who blasted his team-high sixth homer in the eighth, a two-run shot. That came after Cust surprised the entire stadium by dropping a bunt single down the third base line in the first, beating the Rays' infield shift.
Cust had a chuckle over it with Tampa first baseman and former Athletic Carlos Pena.
There's been little else for the A's to smile about lately.
Contact Joe Stiglich at firstname.lastname@example.org.