Bay Area Baseball

Follow the latest news and notes on the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics

May 27, 2013
Strong pitching, timely hits -- and round one goes to the A's

OAKLAND -- One game into this four-game stretch that marks the only time they'll see each other during the regular season, the A's and Giants have nearly identical records that don't really convey the fact they're in the midst of very different stretches.

After winning today's series opener 4-1, the A's (29-23) have won nine of their last 10, including their recent 5-1 road trip against division foes Texas and Houston. The Giants, meanwhile, have lost eight of 13 and are just starting an 18-game span against teams with winning records that includes 14 games on the road, where they're 9-14.

So while the managers today offered the usual observations about how this series means a little more to the fans -- pockets of whom engaged in dueling chants of "Let's go Giants" and "Let's go Oakland" -- it's a chance for each to address an early question.

The Giants were 46-35 away from AT&T Park last season but haven't approached that success so far this year on the road, where their team ERA is 5.04. The A's have just less than a third of their wins against the bottom-dwelling Astros, and while some will look at that as the A's taking care of business where they're supposed to, others may wonder if it means the A's are more like the team that is 20-23 against everybody else.

Plus both teams are pretty similar to the ones that won their divisions last year -- the A's a little less so -- which offers some fun what-if's. Today, at least, the A's got the better pitching performance -- from starter Dan Straily and the steady back end of their bullpen -- and the timely hits that eluded the Giants.

The Straily part highlights another parallel. The A's lost Brett Anderson in their starting rotation and replaced him with Straily, who pitched for them down the stretch last season but is just now offering hints of the consistency the A's want to see from him. The Giants just lost starter Ryan Vogelsong and will find out tomorrow what they have in their first option to replace him -- 24-year-old Michael Kickham, who will make his major-league debut in game two against the A's.

* Straily followed up his seven scoreless innings against the Rangers last week by allowing one run on four hits in six innings against the Giants. It's something Straily has shown he's capable of -- he had three starts last season of at least six innings in which he gave up one or no runs -- but rarely in back-to-back starts. That was the encouraging part for manager Bob Melvin.

"It's really three for him now since he's been here," Melvin said. "You can see (in the) early innings, you can tell he's got a lot more confidence, the way he's carrying himself.

"He's throwing a lot of strikes, which is key for him to set up his slider and his changeup, but his fastball's been really good. You see a lot of late swings on his fastball, and that all starts with getting ahead."

The source of Straily's newfound confidence is the subject of tomorrow's print story, but conversations with catcher Derek Norris and pitching coach Curt Young have factored in. Norris pulled Straily aside before his last start against Texas and told him to "own the mound" like he has in the past in Triple-A and, erratically, in the big leagues. Straily took that advice and Young's to "fill the strike zone" and employed both today.

"That's the pitcher I am," Straily said. "I finally was able just to break through that and be myself. Work quick, fill up the strike zone. I've always said I'm a strike-thrower, not really a strikeout pitcher, and that's what I truly believe."

That might come as a surprise to people who first became aware of Straily last season as the pitcher leading all of baseball in strikeouts at one point before his late-season call-up. But he said today that whereas in the minors he was racking up strikeouts on pitches out of the zone -- "I can't tell you how many strikeouts I had on passed balls." -- that doesn't happen often against big-league hitters. So he's moving back toward pitching to contact, evidenced by his ball-to-strike ratios in his past two starts (52 of 78 total pitches today).

"When you own the mound, it's your mound, you're dictating the at-bat and not the other way around," Norris said. "Ever since (our talk) he's pitched with more authority and his stuff's got better action, he's down in the zone, he's working quick, which keeps your team in the game and keeps (the other team) on the field and us off the field.

* It's almost like clockwork when the A's get to the seventh inning with a lead in a close game -- you're going to see some combination of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour unless one is unavailable. Doolittle breezed through the seventh today on eight pitches, but with Cook warming up in the bullpen, Doolittle came back out for the eighth.

Melvin said that was because of Doolittle's low pitch count. Doolittle faced one left-handed hitter and two right-handers in the eighth and retired all three, including Marco Scutaro for the final out, and finished with 23 pitches (19 strikes). It was the first time he has completed two innings in an outing since last August 10.

"With Scutaro, I was prepared to bring Cook in there, but with nobody on, (Doolittle's) pumping a lot of strikes, pitch count's manageable, so I just let him go," Melvin said. "It has nothing to do with my confidence in anybody else."

Cook allowed a run Sunday in Houston -- it snapped a 22 2/3-inning scoreless streak on the road for Cook -- but has held opponents scoreless in eight of his last 10 outings and has a .095 opponents' on-base percentage that ranks fourth in the American League.

Doolittle, meanwhile, has matched his career high by not allowing a run in his last 13 1/3 innings. He said he wasn't surprised to go back out for a second inning Monday.

"There was really no chance for surprise," Doolittle said. "I came off the mound and I was probably still 10 feet from the dugout and Bob said I was going back out."

* The A's didn't have a hit against Giants starter Madison Bumgarner until the fourth inning, when Josh Donaldson hit a 2-0 fastball over the fence in right-center for a two-run homer, his eighth of the season.

"I guess he wanted to challenge me right there, try to get a double play," Donaldson said. "I was fortunate enough to put a good piece of the wood on it and hit it out."

Donaldson's been getting a piece of a lot of pitches lately. He's batting .370 with six homers and 25 RBIs in his last 33 games and hitting .324 for the season, third among American League third baseman.

* Yoenis Cespedes, who drove in the A's other runs with a seventh-inning double, also took a hard tumble diving for Brandon Crawford's single in the fifth. Cespedes reached for the ball at his shoetops, missed, and went into a full-on somersault.

"I don't know if you saw the YouTube videos," Melvin said, referring to the outfielder's infamous workout videos. "Little somersault's nothing for him."

* Didn't make it to the Giants side after the game, but that'll likely be the focus tomorrow with the arrival and debut of Kickham. He'll face Jarrod Parker in a 7:05 p.m. first pitch.

-- Matt Kawahara

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About Bay Area Baseball

Matt KawaharaMatt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee’s sports staff in fall 2011.
Email: mkawahara@sacbee.com.
Phone: (916) 321-1015.
On Twitter: @matthewkawahara.

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