OAKLAND -- The sample size is too small to indicate whether the A's are regressing back to their old ways, but big enough to ask the question.
Oakland's second straight loss to the Rays on Wednesday, and third loss in its last four games following an 18-3 stretch, featured another uninspiring offensive performance. The A's tallied just five hits in the 4-1 defeat, less than 24 hours after righty James Shields held them to three hits.
This time around, it was right-hander Alex Cobb who limited Oakland's run production, and the A's have now scored just twice in their last 26 innings, their lone run Wednesday coming courtesy of Brandon Inge's 12th homer of the season, a fifth-inning solo shot to left that extended the third baseman's hitting streak to 11 games.
"I think our at-bats were a little better at times today," manager Bob Melvin said. "I think they pitched kind of similar to us as they did last night, saw a lot of breaking balls. We've been able to adjust to that at times over the course of the season. We'll grind through it."
Cobb pitched seven innings for Tampa Bay, which secured the three-game series victory. He struck out six along the way, making it 38 strikeouts over 33 innings since Monday for the A's. It marked Oakland's first back-to-back losses since the club dropped three straight June 28-30 in Texas.
"Kind of weird to be quiet after the game," starter Jarrod Parker said. "We're always playing music. Not too many where we're not."
"I might play it, anyway," Inge joked. "So what, we lost two in a row? We'll take it out on the next team. We're fine."
Like their clubhouse, the A's bats proved silent -- particularly from the middle of the order, where the club's most consistent hitter this season, Josh Reddick, is suddenly mired in a career-long hitless streak of 21 at-bats. He went 0-for-4 in the game, as did Seth Smith, who hasn't had a hit in his last 17 at-bats.
Reddick hit .269 with four home runs and 11 RBIs in the A's red-hot July, numbers he hopes to regain over the final 30 days of August and beyond.
"Everybody goes through these things," he said. "It's still not fun."
"Red's going through a little bit of a difficult time," Melvin said. "When a guy like him in the middle of the order does that, you feel the effects of it. But boy, he's been really consistent all year and he'll come out of it."
On the mound, Parker wasn't exceptional, but he also wasn't exceptionally poor, allowing three runs on eight hits with three walks -- he had issued just two combined walks over his previous three starts -- and two strikeouts over six innings, escaping jams multiple times, as evidenced by the Rays' 3-for-12 mark with runners in scoring position.
"All in all, he came out of it, what, with three runs? I think we expect a lot out of him all the time," Melvin said. "When he gives up a few runs, it seems like he's had a bad outing, but there was a lot of action. They were trying to do a lot of things on the bases. For a young guy that's not used to that, I think he handled it pretty well."
"I think we did a pretty good job of controlling them, but keeping them off the bases is the best way to do it, and I didn't do a very good job of that," Parker said.
The rookie found trouble right away in the first, surrendering a leadoff base hit to Desmond Jennings, who scored two outs later on Matt Joyce's RBI single. Jeff Keppinger scored each of the Rays' next two runs, the first one in the fourth on Ryan Roberts' run-scoring base hit, and again in the fifth when Carlos Pena tallied an RBI double.
Pena, the former A's first baseman, extended Tampa Bay's lead to three in the eighth, by way of a towering home run off lefty Jordan Norberto.
On the other side, little was done by day's end.
"I think you have to look at our whole body of work, offensively, over the season," Melvin explained. "We were in the depths, the cellar, as far as hitting. We've come a long way here recently. We've done very well recently, and we've hit a little rough patch the last couple games. I think we're going to be fine. We're not going to be perfect all the time."