Braden brilliant, but A's can't support

Braden brilliant, but A's can't support

TORONTO -- As the young 2009 season continues, A's manager Bob Geren has had to face more and more questions about his struggling offense.

The group entered Sunday's series finale against the Jays holding the worst collective batting average in the American League (.235) and has shown virtually no power at all.

Oakland's offensive performance on Sunday at Rogers Centre did not help matters much, as the A's were blanked, 1-0, by the Blue Jays, who received a dominant start from left-hander Ricky Romero. After the game, Geren was forced to field more of the same questions.

"Sometimes you look and say, 'We're not swinging that great,' and other times you say, 'We see a pretty good pitching performance,'" Geren said. "Today, the pitching performance was really good."

Romero outmatched A's starter Dallas Braden, who in many ways was just as impressive in the tight pitchers' duel. Braden flinched only once, allowing a single to Toronto first baseman Lyle Overbay in the second inning that made its way up the middle of the field, driving in the game's lone run.

Romero -- who was making just his third Major League start -- carved up the Oakland lineup during his seven innings, surrendering just four hits and two walks.

"He had a clue of what he was doing, and he looked pretty good out there," said A's center fielder Ryan Sweeney, who had one of Oakland's hits against Romero (2-0).

In fact, the closest chance the A's (5-7) received in the game came in the third inning, when Sweeney clubbed a double to the right-center-field gap. Mark Ellis tried to score from first base on the play, but was gunned down at home plate on a relay throw from Jays second baseman Aaron Hill.

Looking past his own double, Sweeney suggested the Oakland lineup is not that far away.

"I just think we're not getting any key hits in situations," he said. "We just need to get those two-out hits to get us going. Last series [against Boston], we kind of did that and won some games, so we just got to start doing that."

Braden's mound performance differed only slightly from Romero's, save for the run. The Oakland left-hander allowed just the run on five hits over 7 1/3 innings -- the longest outing of the season by an A's starter this year.

Geren raved about Braden's ability to neutralize the Jays (10-4), who lead the league in several hitting categories. But Braden himself was less than impressed.

"It was all right, but I thought it could have been a little better," Braden said. "Our bullpen was a little taxed, so the one bright spot was that we didn't have to use too many guys."

Not only did Braden (1-2) refuse to pat himself on the back, but he was harsh on himself, as well.

"I had three walks, which is ridiculous," said the pitcher, sounding rather angry. "You take away that, and that's 12 pitches -- that's easily another one, possibly two innings."

The Oakland offense did get a small boost before the game, as third baseman Eric Chavez made his first start in a week, after being sidelined with a sore right shoulder. Chavez's return was less than swift, though, as he went 0-for-4 at the plate.

"He looked good," Geren said. "The big thing with him would be how he comes out of it -- how he feels tomorrow.

"Hopefully, this little episode with his shoulder is behind him now, and he'll get more regular playing time, and he'll start swinging the bat the way he can. I think he will."

The Oakland clubhouse seems to share the same optimism as Geren, when discussing the team's offense.

"We've got a lineup of great white sharks in here," said Braden. "They smell blood, and they're going to be on it cracking. [They] just got to get that first cut.

"I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- you show me one starting pitcher that wants to face our lineup day in and day out, then tip your hat to them, because he's probably the ace of a staff somewhere. But I don't foresee anybody licking their lips when they face this lineup."

David Singh is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.