Bay Area Baseball

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July 13, 2013
Griffin channels No. 40, throws eight scoreless in A's 3-0 win

OAKLAND -- A.J. Griffin found himself pitching out of the stretch in each of the first six innings of his start against the Red Sox on Saturday night. Four times Boston put a runner on second or third with two outs. His thinking in those situations?

"I just try to act like No. 40," Griffin said, referencing teammate Bartolo Colon. "Not show that they've got me in a situation where they have the upper hand. I just try to stay calm, and that's something I've learned just watching Bartolo pitch."

Colon, whose jersey number matches his age, has the unruffled demeanor of a seasoned veteran and apparently it has rubbed off on Griffin, who isn't easily ruffled himself. The 25-year-old right-hander got out of each of the first six innings unscored upon Saturday and finished with eight scoreless in the A's 3-0 win over the Red Sox, setting Colon up for a chance to pitch Oakland to a series win on Sunday.

Aside from a Mike Napoli double off the wall in the fourth that missed being a home run by a few feet, Griffin didn't really get hit hard. But that was the third time in the first four innings the Red Sox put a runner on second. As in the previous ones, Griffin wriggled out of trouble, getting Daniel Nava and Jarrod Saltalamacchia to fly out to end the inning.

"That's A.J.," catcher Derek Norris siad. "Whenever he gets in a jam, he's got a knack for getting out of it a lot of the time."

Griffin's last start against the Red Sox was not one of those times. At Fenway Park on April 22, Boston tagged him for a career-high nine runs in four innings, including a three-run home run by Will Middlebrooks and a grand slam by Napoli. Griffin admitted that, "After my showing against them last time at Fenway, I kind of wanted to go out there and pitch my game and do the best that I could."

Saturday, he avoided giving up the big hit. The Red Sox left eight runners on base and were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Norris, who re-watched Griffin's Fenway Park start when he arrived at the Coliseum on Saturday, said the difference was command in those situations.

"I told him, 'When you got in trouble (in Boston) you just missed location,'" Norris said. "'Anytime you hit location with your pitches you were fine, it was when you missed location they took advantage of you.' So staying on location was our No. 1 thing today."

Griffin has often referenced the work Norris puts in studying opposing hitters and clearly trusts Norris' pitch selection. He talked along the same lines after Saturday's start, saying Norris "was throwing down signs, and I was just trying to throw it where his glove was."

It was the fourth start this season in which Griffin has pitched at least eight innings and not allowed an earned run. Three have come against teams that currently have at least 50 wins (the Red Sox, the Yankees and the Reds -- the other was the 37-win Brewers). The Red Sox came in as the highest-scoring offense in baseball, though they had been shut out five times this season prior to Saturday.

Griffin completed all nine innings against Cincinnati on June 26 in 108 pitches, and A's manager Bob Melvin said Griffin lobbied Saturday night to go back out for the ninth as well. But with the right-hander already having matched his career high with 110 pitches, and with it being a save situation, Melvin handed the ball over to Grant Balfour.

Balfour, afterward, said he admires the way Griffin "challenges hitters" -- even when he gets into tight situations.

"He doesn't try to pitch around guys," Balfour said. "He goes right at them, and you've got to commend him for that. He's not afraid to challenge anyone, any lineup."

* Norris also broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning with his fifth home run of the year, a solo shot off Jon Lester on an 0-2 fastball. For a two-strike pitch, the fastball appeared to catch a good part of the plate -- Norris admitted a little surprise at just how much.

"Yeah, I mean, my first at-bat with two strikes he gave me a heater as well," Norris said. "Maybe in his mind he thought I was looking off-speed or something, not sure. But it was definitely a decent pitch to hit with two strikes, 0-2 especially."

Not sure if it's a byproduct of this series pitting the two best records in the league against each other, but the margin for error has seemed very thin in the first two games. Saturday, it was the A's capitalizing on their chances, such as a hittable 0-2 fastball to Norris. One inning later, Lester walked Jed Lowrie with one out and the A's made him pay for it with back-to-back singles by Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, couldn't take advantage of their scoring chances, including one in the sixth after Grant Green's fielding error gifted them a runner on first with one out. Griffin struck out Napoli and, after Daniel Nava singled, got Saltalamacchia to fly out.

Speaking of Green, he's still searching for his first major-league hit and was lifted in the eighth inning for defensive replacement Eric Sogard.

* Cespedes, who came in batting .219 and is still trying to rediscover a consistent stroke, singled twice on ground balls through the third base-shortstop hole, drew a walk and was robbed of a hit in the right-center field gap in the fourth by Jacoby Ellsbury, who made a backhanded diving catch.

The irony: Before the game, Cespedes was out with third-base coach Mike Gallego on his home run swing ahead of the Home Run Derby, in which Gallego will throw to him.

"I don't think today was a day we were shortening his swing," Melvin said. "But really for me the best approach was the ball that Ellsbury took away from him in the gap. That was a great swing.

"When he's going well he's using the whole field. ... Hopefully (Saturday night is) something to kind of build on."

* Watching the Red Sox, you definitely see reasons outside of the offensive numbers for why they have the best record in baseball. Along with Ellsbury's catch, Shane Victorino ranged far into the same gap to take away extra bases from Lowrie in the third, while Dustin Pedroia, Friday night's defensive hero, made another nice play with an over-the-shoulder catch on a bloop in shallow center off the bat of Green. Those plays go down as routine outs on the scorecard, but they keep runners off the bases.

* Balfour is now perfect in 25 save opportunities on the season and his Oakland-record consecutive saves streak stands at 43. Though not an All-Star, Balfour could still join the team as an injury replacement -- or if Colon opts to make himself ineligible for the game as the A's lone representative.

Melvin said Saturday afternoon he didn't know if Colon had made that decision and no news came out after the game. Balfour was asked if he'll be in New York next week and he gave an equally nebulous answer.

"I don't know anything about it," he said. "Not that I know of. Not yet. Going to have to wait on that one."

* The A's don't have to wait long before they're back on the field for Sunday's 1:05 p.m. first pitch against Boston. It's Colon (12-3, 2.69) vs. Brandon Workman (0-0, 13.50) in the series finale.

Regardless of the outcome, the A's will enter the All-Star Break with the most wins at the break in franchise history since 1975. They also had 55 that year.

-- 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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