JP Sears

Sears singles out Rodriguez at-bat to perfectly sum up latest outing

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OAKLAND, Calif. -- There never is a good time to face Seattle Mariners slugger Julio Rodriguez, but Athletics starter JP Sears had to during the most tense at-bat of Oakland's 3-0 loss on Thursday at the Coliseum.

After two strikeouts in the first inning and no permanent damage done in the second, things quickly changed in the third for Sears.

The lefty walked Mariners catcher Mitch Garver after a nine-pitch at-bat. The following at-bat from Víctor Robles ended after just one pitch that welted the Seattle outfielder in his right thigh. Then, Ryan Bliss helped the Mariners load the bases on a bunt single.

Sears allowed just one baserunner, which came on a walk, in his first two innings against Seattle. In the blink of an eye, he found himself in a bases-loaded jam with no outs.

J.P. Crawford was due up, and less than 24 hours after halting MLB history by breaking up A's pitcher Joey Estes' perfect game bid Wednesday night, the Mariners shortstop struck out swinging.

Phew.

That was exactly what Sears needed at the time, but he still needed two more outs.

Sears got Dylan Moore to fly out to left field, but it was deep enough for Garver to tag up from third and score with ease to put the Mariners on the board first.

While it wasn't the best thing to occur for Sears and the A's -- it certainly wasn't the worst.

The "worst" was yet to come for Sears, who locked eyes with Rodriguez as the two-time MLB All-Star walked to the plate greeted with loud cheers from several Mariners fans in attendance.

Rodriguez, who homered in Wednesday's game -- the lone run for Seattle in its 2-1 loss to Oakland -- entered Thursday's game batting .357 with eight runs, three homers, 10 RBI and three walks over his last 11 games, slugging .571 with a .971 OPS.

In 31 career games against Oakland, the two-time Silver Slugger is batting .344 with 27 runs, nine doubles, two triples, nine home runs, 21 RBI and seven walks. His .344 average is best among active players against the A's.

The nerves of facing the star slugger seemingly got to Sears early, tossing three straight balls to Rodriguez in the crucial at-bat.

But Sears got Rodriguez on the next pitch on a 91-mph four-seam fastball. Strike one. The count reached 3-2 after Rodriguez fouled an 84-mph changeup. Strike two. Nothing changed three pitches later when Rodriguez hit Sears' slider, sweeper and four-seam fastball into foul territory.

And then finally -- on the ninth pitch of the at-bat -- Rodriguez grounded out on an 84-mph changeup from Sears.

Seattle took the 1-0 lead, but Sears' composure in a high-pressure situation limited the damage in what could have been an offensive outburst for the Mariners.

"I think that was probably the definition of the outing there with that at-bat," Sears said postgame Thursday. "That was kind of the crucial out there that helped propel me through the fifth and sixth innings. With a big swing from him there, it would have been a completely different game.

"Obviously he's a really good hitter. We saw it last night and just from seeing him so much. So it was huge to get him out there."

In six innings of work, Sears allowed just three hits and two earned runs while striking out eight in his 13th start of the 2024 MLB season.

But the A's bats, in a frustratingly common theme for Sears, provided zero run support in the shutout loss.

"For JP, six innings and two runs, that's a quality start," A's manager Mark Kotsay said after the loss. "He did everything he could to give us a chance to win the game today. Another solid outing for him."

Sears defined his outing as "solid" and acknowledged things could have "gone a little south" in the third, but he said he felt better as the game went on after escaping the third-inning jam.

It has been an up-and-down season for Sears thus far, oftentimes dishing out gems while other times causing more reason for concern to an already limited A's rotation.

While there has been inconsistency on the bump for Sears this season, he has been one of the most reliable options amid a flurry of injuries for Oakland.

"I try to be at 95 percent out there all the time," Sears said. "Not try to do too much and not get too outside of myself. I think being a good pitcher in the big leagues is about locating your pitches in good spots and not necessarily about [velocity] and how many strikeouts you get.

"So my job is to get into the sixth or seventh inning every time I go out there every five days and that's going to be my goal for the rest of the season."

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