OAKLAND -- Like the A's recently, Dan Straily is doing some of his best work of the season at the right time. Straily, the rookie right-hander, threw seven scoreless innings against the Astros in the A's 2-1 win on Saturday and has now allowed just three runs over 19 innings in his last three starts. The A's have won all three -- against the Tigers, Rangers and Astros -- and have won seven of their last nine games, ensuring they will spend at least another night in sole possession of first place.
"He's pitching really well for us right now, one of our better starters here," manager Bob Melvin said.
Straily allowed just two hits to the Astros and struck out seven. The consensus from his teammates and Melvin is that when Straily has command of his fastball he can be nasty for opposing hitters because he can also throw his off-speed for strikes. Straily's slider was particularly sharp Saturday -- catcher Kurt Suzuki said that when Straily gets on top of the pitch, it's "among the best I've ever caught."
"Every once in a while there are some lapses where he loses command of the fastball, but he always seems on the days he's going really well to snap out of it and get right back in the zone," shortstop Jed Lowrie said. "Today was one of those days, and he had the slider working really well. He was impressive today. Really, really impressive."
Straily is now tied for the A.L. lead among rookies with nine wins. He also has the lead in starts (24) and strikeouts (109) and is 3-0 since a seven-start winless streak from mid-July to mid-August. That led Melvin to be asked after the game whether Straily should merit some Rookie of the Year consideration, along with other rookie A.L. pitchers like the Rangers' Martin Perez and the Rays' Chris Archer.
"That's a tough one for me to comment on," Melvin said. "He has the ability to be one of those guys, definitely."
Consistency has been the issue. Straily has 11 starts this season where he has thrown at least six innings and allowed two or fewer runs. He also has eight starts where he hasn't made it out of the fifth.
Saturday, though, he was on. The A's didn't give him much support -- Yoenis Cespedes' home run in the fourth and Led Lowrie's two-out homer in the seventh accounted for all their scoring -- but Straily made it stand.
"He only had a one-run lead, but it kind of seemed like the game was in hand with him out there on the mound," said reliever Sean Doolittle. "That was an incredible job."
* Doolittle recorded his first save by getting the final four outs, with closer Grant Balfour off-limits after a 35-pitch save Saturday night.
"It feels good because Brett (Anderson) has two and now I'm almost going to catch him," Doolittle said. "He's been in the bullpen for like a week."
Doolittle entered with two outs in the eighth and Brandon Barnes on first base. He picked Barnes off first, but Barnes beat Daric Barton's throw to second. Barnes then took off for third -- in a 2-1 game -- on a pitch that was fouled off. And then he ran again on the very next pitch, which was actually a pickoff move by Doolittle that resulted in Barnes getting tagged out at third to end the inning.
Doolittle said he wasn't surprised to see Barnes' aggressiveness, even when Barnes was already in scoring position with the Astros' leadoff hitter Jonathan Villar at bat. "Late in the game, they like to try to make things happen and he's one of their big base-stealers," he said. "That (pickoff) came I think from either Suzuki or the dugout."
Suzuki said the call for the pickoff came from Melvin and bench coach Chip Hale -- and that he was very much surprised to see Barnes trying for third a second time.
"I really couldn't believe he tried to go again being the tying run, on second base, scoring position. He's a really, really fast guy, too," Suzuki said. "But it was good for us."
Doolittle came back out for the ninth and allowed a one-out single to Jose Altuve before returning Trevor Crowe and Jason Castro on flyouts to end the game. It was Doolittle's second career save and first since last July 12.
"I had some inner rage -- now I know why Balfour yells at himself so much," Doolittle said. "You definitely get a little bit of extra adrenaline, even more so than some of the pressure situations we see in the seventh and eighth inning.
"It's a different beast going out there to try and get a save. I was trying to keep it in check and trying to channel it and use it the right way. But it was a rush for sure."
* Tomorrow's print story focuses on the A's using home runs to fuel their offense again in the second half. They entered Saturday leading the majors in homers since Aug. 9 and hit two more in the 2-1 win, with Cespedes pulling within one of his total from last year.
Coco Crisp and Brandon Moss have obviously played the biggest part in the power surge over the past few weeks. But can seeing players get hot like that be contagious for the rest of the lineup? Josh Donaldson had the most insightful answer.
"Somewhat, I think it can be," Donaldson said. "I think another thing is guys have logged a lot of at-bats, so pitch recognition should be as good as it's going to get right now. It's one of those things, whenever mistakes are had, I feel like instead of fouling the ball back guys are hitting it pretty hard."
* Cespedes, meanwhile, is 11-for-28 in September after beginning the month with a .226 average. Melvin repeated what he has said much of the second half about Cespedes: "We haven't seen a real hot streak out of him. Now would be a good time for it."
* Donaldson tweaked his quad running out a double in the seventh inning but stayed in the game. Melvin said the A's will see how Donaldson is Sunday before deciding if he'll play in the series finale. "Not a guy we want to mess around with," Melvin said.
Donaldson said he felt a "knot" in his right quad and was getting treatment after the game. "I've played with worse," he said.
* This game will not be held up as an example of good baserunning. Aside from Barnes in the eighth, the Astros saw another potential rally end when Villar tried to stretch a single into a double with two outs in the third and was thrown out by Cespedes. Had he stayed at first, the Astros would have had runners on first and third with Altuve up.
The A's returned the favor in the bottom of the inning. With Suzuki on second base and Jed Lowrie on first, Donaldson singled into right field. Trevor Crowe's throw home was cut off by first baseman Brett Wallace, who saw Lowrie caught between second and third but held the ball as Lowrie retreated to second. Suzuki, though, started down the line for home and was tagged out after a short rundown.
Melvin said it looked like Lowrie was trying to draw a throw to give Suzuki a chance to score, thinking Suzuki would be waved around to begin with. Suzuki said he "saw Jed going and didn't realize he was able to get back, so then I was ready to go home. It was a debacle after that."
* The win gave the A's a one-game lead in the West, which could increase to a game and a half if the Rangers lose tonight to the Angels. It's the Astros' Paul Clemens (4-4, 5.91) against the A's Bartolo Colon (14-6, 2.90) in the series finale Sunday at 1:05 p.m.
-- Matt Kawahara