With a struggling offense that will be missing a key offseason acquisition for a while, the Oakland Athletics will have to rely on dominant pitching to win.
Oakland - which is hitting just .234 with 20 homers this season - will play its first game without designated hitter Mike Piazza after he suffered a sprained right shoulder while trying to dive back into third base and avoid a tag Wednesday in a 6-4 loss to Boston.
“It’s frustrating,” said Piazza, who will miss four to six weeks. “I felt like I was starting to swing the bat a little better.”
Piazza, who went 2-for-3 Wednesday, had hit safely in each of his last six games, a span in which he batted .391 (9-for-23). The 38-year-old, who signed as a free agent with Oakland (13-14) after spending his previous 14 seasons in the NL, was hitting .282 (29-for-103) with a homer and eight RBIs.
Despite a losing record, the A’s have the lowest ERA in the AL at 3.22 and will send their best pitcher to face the Devil Rays for the second time in six days. Haren (3-2, 1.60 ERA) allowed three runs and seven hits, struck out a season-high seven and did not issue a walk in 7 1-3 innings of a 12-5 victory over Tampa Bay on Monday.
“It’s lucky but I’ve had my share of unlucky, too,” Haren told the Athletics’ official Web site. “When you get a 6-0 lead, it’s all about throwing strikes. I figured if I kept making quality pitches and didn’t’ walk anybody, I had a good chance to win the game.”
In winning his last three starts, the right-hander has allowed just three earned runs with a .198 opponent batting average in 21 1-3 innings.
Oakland lost two of three at home to Tampa Bay last week and starts play two games behind the first-place Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.
The Devil Rays, meanwhile, have won four of their last six games, including Thursday’s 6-4 victory over Minnesota which allowed them to move into a three-way tie with Toronto and the New York Yankees for second in the AL East - 5 1/2 games behind first-place Boston.
“We’ll take it,” left fielder Carl Crawford said on the Devil Rays’ official Web site. “We just hope we can keep going good and move into first, hopefully.”
Casey Fossum (2-2, 8.58) looks to extend that success for Tampa Bay. The left-hander, who opposed Haren on Saturday, allowed a season-high nine runs in just five innings.
“I dug myself into a hole,” said Fossum, who has surrendered at least six runs in three of his five starts this season. .
In eight appearances against the A’s, including three starts, Fossum is 1-2 with a 10.42 ERA. He’s allowed 14 runs in 6 2-3 innings while losing his last two starts to them.
Devil Rays’ designated hitter Rocco Baldelli had a two-run homer in Thursday’s win over Minnesota, and is hitting .329 (26-for-79) with seven home runs and 14 RBIs in 18 games versus Oakland. He is 4-for-7 with two solo home runs against Haren.