ATLANTA -- The A's have given Jason Hammel seven starts since they acquired him, along with Jeff Samardzija, from the Cubs on July 4 by sending minor leaguers Addison Russell, Dan Straily and Billy McKinney to Chicago.
Oakland has lost six of those starts, including Friday's 7-2 defeat in the first of a three-game set against the Atlanta Braves. And the question facing the A's is how much more rope will Hammel be given. The latest loss, combined with the Los Angeles Angels' win over Texas, reduced Oakland's grip on first place in the American League West to one game.
After Hammel lasted four innings, giving up three homers and five runs, manager Bob Melvin wasn't saying. The right-hander came into the game having allowed one run over 12 innings in two prior August starts.
"I would never make any comments about any player 10 minutes after a ballgame regardless," Melvin said. "That's just not something I would comment on ever."
Oakland has options in Jesse Chavez, who was in the rotation until Jon Lester was picked up in a July 31 deal with Boston, and Drew Pomeranz, who gave up two runs or less in six of seven starts between May 7 and June 10, when he broke his hand hitting a clubhouse chair.
Chavez pitched in relief Friday and was stung for two unearned runs when he followed a two-out error by surrendering a home run. Pomeranz is 2-0 in six starts with a 3.12 ERA for Triple-A Sacramento.
Solo homers by Justin Upton and Evan Gattis in the second and a three-run bomb by Freddie Freeman an inning later won't show up well on Hammel's ledger.
"You've got to keep the ball in the yard," Hammel said. "That's the bottom line. Two fastballs on the outer third that were hittable and then a slider to Freeman with guys on base. Three-run homers do some damage. Solo homers you can deal with."
To be sure, this one wasn't all on Hammel. The A's made a few brutal baserunning errors -- Jonny Gomes getting picked off second base in the first inning when there was a chance to do damage against Braves starter Alex Wood early, then Alberto Callaspo getting doubled off second when he misread a fly ball off the bat of Andy Parrino.
"We were bad," Melvin said. "We didn't play very well pretty much in all facets."
He said Gomes went too far in trying to get a secondary lead off second when he got picked off. The manager said Callaspo thought the ball was hit much lower than it was.
Then there was the bottom of the sixth, when first baseman Nate Freiman, whose fourth-inning homer gave the A's their only runs, botched Jason Heyward's routine grounder. Chavez's next pitch was hit out by Phil Gosselin despite a leaping stab above the wall by A's center fielder Coco Crisp. That blast turned an already nasty 5-2 deficit into an imposing 7-2 crevasse.
"I didn't come in and get the ball aggressively enough," Freiman said. "It was hit slow. I let it take one too many hops. That error with the home run gave them back some momentum that we had after we'd closed the deficit to three."
Hammel (1-5 with Oakland) certainly hasn't been the beneficiary of much offense on the part of the A's. Oakland has scored three runs or less in all but one of his starts. It's part of a trend. The A's were averaging 5.0 runs a game before the Hammel-Samardzija trade. They're scoring 4.5 runs a game since then and, since the trade of Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for Gomes and Lester, the offense is down to 3.7 runs per game.
Catcher Derek Norris said the club's inconsistent offense of late is like "riding a constant wave of baseball. (But) it'll be old news before you know it."
Norris singled and doubled, but the A's had just two other hits (Freiman's homer and Callaspo's single). For the month of August, the A's have had six hits or few more times (eight) than not (seven).
"We've been known to have some stretches where we play bad baseball that last about a week," Norris said. "We'll come out of it."
A's (Sonny Gray 12-6) at Atlanta (Julio Teheran 10-9), 4:10 p.m. CSNCA