Bay Area Baseball

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June 13, 2013
No rust for A's lefties in 5-2 win; Straily earning more rope

OAKLAND -- The A's finally faced a right-handed starter Wednesday after seeing five left-handers in a row, meaning Bob Melvin finally got to run out his left-handed lineup, which surely had accumulated some rust over the last week.

Or not. Consider these numbers from the left-handed halves of the positions where the A's regularly platoon: catcher John Jaso, left fielder Seth Smith, first baseman Brandon Moss and second baseman Eric Sogard combined to reach base in 13 of 18 times at the plate Wednesday, drive in all five of the A's runs in their 5-2 win over the Yankees and draw seven of the A's nine walks.

"They looked like they hadn't missed a beat," Melvin said.

Sogard hadn't had an at-bat since June 5, but went 1-for-2, walked twice and scored two runs. Smith -- 2 for 24 over his last 10 games -- reached base all five times Wednesday, including a career-high four walks.

Moss was mired in as bad a slump as anybody, with three hits in his past 36 at-bats and having not started a game since June 5. So naturally, he hit the first pitch he saw from Yankees starter Phil Hughes, a changeup in the second inning, over the right-field wall for a two-run homer.

Moss homered again in the eighth off Joba Chamberlain to end an 11-pitch at-bat. It was his third career multi-homer game. He is 5-for-40 since May 20. All five of the hits are home runs. He struck out his other two times up Wednesday, making this about as near as you can get to a quintessential night for Moss, who is accepting of the fact his power approach leaves him open to the not-so-occasional K.

"Last year in Triple-A I did it at exactly this time, I had three weeks straight where the only hits I had were home runs," Moss said. "I mean, I'll take that. It's not where I want to be, obviously. I'd much rather be getting hits also. But I've done it before where I've sacrificed power for hits and it still didn't turn out well."

Moss is now batting .228, and while his strikeout rate entering Wednesday was right on par with last season (30.4 percent of plate appearances), his home run rate was down from the torrid pace he stayed on after being called up from Triple-A at midseason (4.4 percent of plate appearances, compared to 7.1 last season).

Still, Melvin said he thought it was "just a matter of time" before Moss had a game like this. "He wasn't getting consistent time, was getting in there and facing a lot of left-handers," Melvin said. "But it was just a matter of time for me."

What made the first-base platoon -- and really, the entire platoon strategy -- work so well for the A's last season was the ability of players to hit consistently without the benefit of playing every day. Chris Young's struggles this season, in his first year outside of an everyday role, illustrate how difficult that can be.

The lefties' performance in this game was a promising sign for the A's -- especially with an upcoming stretch of two weeks where Melvin said they're projected to see nothing but right-handed starters. That it also came on a night where the lineup was missing leadoff man Coco Crisp and slugger Yoenis Cespedes was a bonus.

"This year the most consistent guys, the MVPs of the team, are (third baseman Josh) Donaldson and Coco," Moss said. "And then Cespy's been swinging the bat really well lately. To have two of those three guys out, it's something where the rest of the lineup has to pick up the slack."

* Moss thought he made pretty good contact with his first home run -- at least enough so that it would reach the warning track, even at the Coliseum. So he was a little surprised to see right fielder Ichiro Suzuki slowing up about 10 feet in front of the dirt like he was camping under the ball.

It was a fake, of course, and Suzuki wheeled around as the ball cleared his head and the wall. But it was convincing enough to fool Moss -- and Josh Reddick, who had retreated to first base and found Moss right behind him as the ball cleared the fence.

"That was an incredible deke," Moss said.

Moss said he told Ichiro as much when the veteran reached first base later in the game.

"Obviously he deked me so well I didn't want to give him credit for it," Moss said. "I don't want him to do it again. But he deked everybody."

* Melvin said Crisp (heel) was more likely to be available off the bench tonight than Cespedes (hamstring), which is on par with how each was feeling before the game. Crisp has an outside shot to play tomorrow, Melvin said Wednesday afternoon, but with a day game after a night game it may make sense to rest both again.

Meanwhile, the A's are now 13-19 this season when the starting lineup doesn't include both Crisp and Cespedes. They're 27-8 when both are in.

* Speaking of records, the A's at 40-27 are off to their best start through 67 games since 1990, when they were 43-24. They've won 20 of 25 and have the best record in baseball since May 11, the day they snapped a season-high five-game losing streak. For as many questions as there were when the A's were 18-19 with a third of their wins against the Astros, they're playing like a league power right now.

* Melvin drew some laughs in his post-game news conference when he basically asked himself about Dan Straily, since the A's starter hadn't come up yet (much like in this blog post). Not that he should have had to. Straily won his third consecutive decision and is now 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA in his last five starts.

After going at least six innings in just one of his first five starts in Oakland this season, Straily has completed six innings in his last five starts and allowed two or fewer runs in four of them. He allowed two runs on three hits in 6 2/3 against the Yankees and was one strike away from finishing the seventh before Jayson Nix's RBI single on a 1-2 curveball knocked him out of the game.

"He's been on a roll," Melvin said. "We're giving him more and more rope, facing big at-bats in a game where before I was taking him out before those really tough at-bats. Now I'm letting him work through them and he's really rewarding us."

Straily has said his early struggles coincided with him trying to be too fine with pitches, and he has really embraced what he calls "filling up the zone." On Wednesday, he threw 61 of his 86 pitches for strikes, and said he had "a little extra movement" that allowed him to attack the zone and still induce weak contact.

"Just trying to be Bartolo-esque when it comes to throwing strikes," Straily said.

* Sean Doolittle relieved Straily in the seventh and faced Chris Stewart, whom he struck out Tuesday night in a 10-pitch at-bat on a high fastball. Wednesday, Doolittle got ahead of Stewart with a series of fastballs, then got him to swing through a full-count changeup.

It was another example of Doolittle starting to mix his pitches a little more in light of his recent rough stretch. The changeup itself is a new wrinkle this season -- Doolittle said he had maybe one strikeout using the pitch last season and one or two this year, "But the fact is you can count them on one hand."

Doolittle came back out for the eighth and retired the top of the Yankees lineup in order. In his scoreless inning Tuesday night he had faced New York's 7-8-9 hitters, and while he didn't discount the importance of that inning, he acknowledged that facing the guys with Gardner, Cano and Teixeira on the backs of their jerseys was another kind of test.

"To come out of there with no hits, no runs, the way things have been going that's really big for me moving forward," Doolittle said.

* The Yankees brought the tying run to the plate against Grant Balfour for the second night in a row, but at least this one ended without a fly ball to the warning track. Balfour is now 17-for-17 this season in save opportunities and has converted his last 35 chances in a row.

While he doesn't want to talk about it, he's creeping closer to the Oakland record for consecutive saves converted -- 40, held by Dennis Eckersley. That stretch of Eckersley's included his first 36 chances in 1992, the longest such stretch to start a season in Oakland A's history.

* Only a few hours until Jarrod Parker faces Hiroki Kuroda in the series finale, with the A's in position for a potential sweep. Parker faced the Yankees twice last year and was 1-0 with two runs allowed in 16 innings.

-- 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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