OAKLAND -- A's catcher Derek Norris said he wasn't surprised to get a first-pitch slider from C.C. Sabathia with two on and two outs in the fourth inning Tuesday night.
"With runners in scoring position, especially with two outs, he's not going to serve you up a nice fastball over the middle where you can hit it out of the park," Norris said. "He's going to try and pitch."
Sabathia threw a backdoor slider -- and Norris hit it out of the park, or at least over the wall in left-center to put the A's up 4-0 in their eventual 6-4 win. While Norris wasn't surprised by the pitch, Sabathia and the Yankees had reason to be surprised by the swing. The plate appearance was Norris' 179th of the season. It was just the fifth time he has swung at the first pitch (he also has one first-pitch sacrifice bunt).
Norris has been the most patient hitter on the A's this season in terms of pitches seen per plate appearance -- an average of 4.40 pitches entering Tuesday. That's been healthy for his on-base percentage (.313 before Tuesday, in part because of 23 walks in those 167 plate appearances), but hadn't done much for his batting average, which had fallen to .194 due to a 14-for-93 (.150) mark since May 1.
Norris said Tuesday's first-pitch swing was part of his "looking to make a few changes." That includes some mechanical adjustments made with hitting coach Chili Davis to "free up my hands," as well as "trying to be a little more confident, a little more aggressive at the plate, not being so passive."
Norris thought he probably did catch the Yankees off-guard with the first-pitch swing, because "they know I'm not an extremely early hitter." He took advantage of a similar situation in the A's 2-0 win over the Yankees in New York on May 3, when he hit an RBI single off Sabathia in a 3-0 count.
Having already driven in a run with a two-out double in the second, the homer gave Norris his first career four-RBI game. The double came in a 3-1 count -- more along the lines of what Norris has tried to work this season. But that may start to change.
"I'm not saying I'm going to be swinging at a lot more first pitches, that's not necessarily the case," Norris said. "But trying to get a good pitch to hit, whether it's the first pitch, second pitch, 11th pitch ... With the adjustments I'm making, (I'm) trying to hop on something early, whatever pitch it is."
* Strange outing for Bartolo Colon, who walked four hitters -- or two fewer than he had in his first 12 starts of the season combined -- but left after six innings having allowed no runs and improved to 8-2 on the year with a 2.92 ERA. In his last five starts, Colon is 5-0 with three earned runs allowed in 36 innings.
"They were spoiling quite a few pitches, which got the pitch count up, and he did walk some guys, which you very rarely see," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Probably not his best stuff of the year. But six innings, no runs, that's still pretty good."
Colon walked Robinson Cano and Travis Hafner in the first inning to load the bases with one out, but got Kevin Youkilis to pop out to Nate Freiman and Lyle Overbay to fly out to Yoenis Cespedes to end the inning. The Yankees didn't get multiple runners on base in an inning again until the eighth.
Colon also walked Cano in the fifth inning and Hafner leading off the sixth, and Norris indicated he thought Colon might have been "trying to play match-ups," opting to go after the hitters behind the Yankees' powerful left-handers -- something he could afford to do at that point with a sizeable lead.
"He had his command," Norris said. "I think when you get to a certain count with a guy like Robbie -- he walked him twice -- I just think he feels more comfortable giving another guy a chance to get him out rather than trying to give into a guy like (Cano)."
Colon came into the game with the lowest walks-per-nine-innings rate in the American League at 0.7, and saw that jump to 1.1 as he walked four batters for the first time since July 7, 2011. When none of them score, though, what can you say?
* Interesting move by Melvin after the Yankees put two runners on with two outs in the ninth against reliever Ryan Cook. With Mark Teixeira coming up and the potential tying run still in the on-deck circle, Melvin brought in Grant Balfour to get the final out.
Teixeira had faced Cook once in his career and Cook retired him. Against Balfour, the Yankees first baseman was 6-for-14 with two home runs. Melvin often cites those kinds of match-up numbers when explaining why he writes out a lineup, so it seems more likely he made the move Tuesday in spite of that history than because he was unaware.
Teixeira singled off Balfour to cut the deficit to 6-4 and bring up Hafner, who had two hits in three at-bats against the A's closer. Balfour got ahead in the count before Hafner lifted a fly ball to the wall in left, where Seth Smith caught it on a leap. Melvin said he was a little surprised to see the ball carry that far to the opposite field at night, but didn't think it had a chance to clear the wall.
* Smith entered the game in the third inning after Yoenis Cespedes left with what the A's called left hamstring tightness. Cespedes appeared to come off the field favoring the leg after grounding out in the first inning.
"Hopefully we caught it at the right time," Melvin said. "He felt like he could have played a little bit more, but we don't want to fool around with a hamstring. He's literally day-to-day at this point."
Melvin said Coco Crisp also felt some discomfort in his heel but stayed in the game because it didn't limit his ability to run.
"It was just bothering him a little bit when he was just moving around without having to go full intensity," Melvin said. "We'll see how he feels tomorrow."
* It seemed like a fairly inconsequential inning at the time, with the A's leading 6-0, but Sean Doolittle's 1-2-3 seventh was an important outing for the left-handed reliever, who had come back down to earth in the past couple weeks while allowing 10 runs in his last five appearances.
Melvin has reiterated the A's haven't lost any faith in Doolittle, who through his first 23 games had given up just two runs. But he said he could see how Doolittle would "maybe lose a little bit of confidence along the way." Doolittle said Monday's off day came at a good time as a chance to "kind of get away and clear my head almost press reset."
Doolittle said he didn't make any changes to his mechanics or routine, but he did mix his pitches more against the 7-8-9 hitters of the Yankees, including throwing "a slider to a righty for the first time all year." That was Yankees catcher Chris Stewart, who gave a 10-pitch battle to Doolittle before striking out swinging at a high fastball.
That at-bat, Doolittle said, was where he saw the biggest difference between this outing and his past few.
"The way he was fouling the fastball off, guys haven't been doing that lately," Doolittle said. "They've been on it. He was late on it. Even the ones he was fouling back, they were getting in on his hands a little bit. So I felt really good continuing to pound the zone with that fastball."
Granted, he was talking about the No. 9 hitter in the Yankees lineup, albeit one who came into the game batting .276 and singled twice Tuesday. Still, that at-bat -- and the outing overall -- have to be a confidence boost for Doolittle after the lumps he has been taking.
-- Matt Kawahara