Athletics

A's Homer Bailey relies on splitter in shutting down mighty Yankees

A's Homer Bailey relies on splitter in shutting down mighty Yankees

OAKLAND -- When Homer Bailey dominated the Giants his last time out, it was certainly impressive, but it came with the caveat of facing a weak lineup. There was no such caveat Tuesday night.

Bailey shut down the league-leading New York Yankees for 5 2/3 innings, allowing just one run with eight strikeouts, as the A's took the series opener, 6-2. Most notably, seven of Bailey's eight strikeouts came on his splitter.

"I thought he was great," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "He had a really good split again tonight. It keeps you off balance. He can go up top with his heater and the breaking ball is just enough. It was another night where he had a really good split. It pairs off his fastball really well."

Bailey, 33, utilized the split early and often, throwing it on 32 of his 108 pitches. The right-hander made the powerful Bronx Bombers look silly, chasing pitches well out of the zone.

"It was (working well)," Bailey said. "I think just kind of understanding how I need to throw it -- the pressure points and the speeds -- it's just something that's been working really well for me and it's complemented by the other pitches."

Bailey's splitter was effective his last start against the Giants as well, resulting in three strikeouts, two groundouts, and a flyout, without a single hit.

"It looks pretty nasty," said A's first baseman Matt Olson, who went 2-for-3 with his 26th home run of the season. "The guys I've talked to say it's pretty good. It looks like a true tumble splitter, which is definitely a tough pitch to hit. Not many people have the true split. He was obviously on tonight."

When Bailey's splitter is on, it also makes his other pitches more effective. He fooled several Yankees hitters with his fastball because it comes out of the same arm slot as the split.

Said Melvin: "It allows him to pitch up and down. He can elevate with his fastball and the split kind of comes out of the same plane. Then he can throw his slider and sinker and kind of go side to side just enough. When he's throwing strikes and getting ahead and he has that pitch, as we've seen since he's been here, he can be a tough customer."

[RELATED: Melvin, A's unafraid to use rookie pitcher Puk in big spot]

The A's have now won five of Bailey's seven starts since acquiring him from the Reds. His last two outings were probably his best and should go a long way toward keeping him in the starting rotation for the rest of the season.

Why red-hot A's still have work to do to captivate Oakland's home fans

Why red-hot A's still have work to do to captivate Oakland's home fans

OAKLAND -- Redoubtable and relentless, the A’s are four months away from being the only game in town, the most visible representative of a city that craves positive recognition.

They’re launching home runs at an astonishing pace, delivering the equivalent of baseball fireworks.

They’re winning, generally the first requirement of sports popularity, at a rate that keeps them in the thick of the race to the AL playoffs.

Despite these advantageous factors, fans are not flocking to the Coliseum. And, please, let’s not blame local indifference on the ballpark’s lack of freshness and charm. Too simple.

This is about emotional attachment. Listening to fans of baseball in general and the A’s in particular, some variation of that theme consistently surfaces. There are varying degrees of emotional scar tissue, and it has them in their feelings, making them reluctant out of fear of getting burned. Again.

It’s unfortunate, because what these A’s are producing is worth the time and money.

Here they are, surging into the postseason with the second-best record in baseball since the All-Star break and averaging 14,870 fans over three games this week. That included 16,714 witnesses Wednesday afternoon for a stressful 1-0 victory in 11 innings over the Kansas City Royals.

These A’s have something for everybody. Shortstop Marcus Semien, who is having an MVP caliber season, grew up in the East Bay, as did Stephen Piscotty. Mark Canha, who lashed the game-winning hit Wednesday, grew up in the South Bay. Third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson mash with their bats and sing tender ballads with their gloves.

If homers are supposed to lure folks to the yard, how is it that this club, which now owns the single-season franchise record, remains in a relative vacuum?

Mostly because too many local fans have too often been captivated by A’s teams of the past 20 years, only to feel victimized by the franchise’s cycle of assembling and disassembling, usually in the name of payroll discipline. Each time around, a few more folks stop coming and decide to observe, if at all, from the distance of living rooms and bars.

“I know if, knock wood, we’re able to get into the postseason, they would show up,” manager Bob Melvin told NBC Sports Bay Area on Wednesday. “Our fans are into it. They might not be here every night. And I’m not telling people how to spend their money. But it is a terrific fan base. When they’re ignited, and they come out and full force, we feel them like a 10th man.”

This has been true in the past and likely will be again. There is a bandwagon, but it sits in a distant corner, idling, ready to get into should the A’s reach the postseason.

Postseason baseball in Oakland is so vibrant it makes the Coliseum feel spectacular. And some are waiting for a playoff game to light up the yard. Even then, though, there will be holdouts who can’t overcome the scar tissue reminding them of old heartbreak.

Too many fans remember those engaging teams of early 2000s, when pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito were rocking batters to sleep while Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez and Jermaine Dye were terrorizing pitchers. Those clubs averaged 98 wins per season and made four consecutive playoff appearances, each ending in painful AL Division Series defeats over the full five games.

The core of that roster -- which drew an average of 2.03 million fans per season from 2000 through 2003 -- broke up and scattered.

Most remember the 2006 team, led by Frank Thomas and Nick Swisher and Chavez, with Zito taking the mound every fifth day. That bunch, which came 23,375 short of drawing two million, swept the Twins in the Division Series before being by the Tigers in the AL Championship Series.

Thomas, the most commanding clubhouse presence the A’s have had this century, left as a free agent and landed in Toronto. Zito, priced out of Oakland -- with, to be fair, declining effectiveness -- headed across The Bay and signed with the Giants.

Lastly, all A’s fans remember the 2012 (94-68) and 2013 (96-66) teams, both of which made quick postseason exits but generated enough momentum for the 2014 A’s (88-74) to draw more than 2 million for the first time since 2005.

Ever since the leader of those teams, third baseman Josh Donaldson was traded exactly two months after the 2014 season despite expressing a commitment to Oakland, attendance has been in decline.

The roster has, once again, been revived by team architect Billy Beane and his lieutenants. The A’s won 97 games last season and have 92 wins with nine games to play this season.

[RELATED: Treinen out 4-6 weeks with back injury; Bassitt to A's 'pen]

An A’s home game offers the best value in Bay Area sports, maybe the highest entertainment-per-dollar ratio in baseball. It’s quality ball at budget-friendly prices in a town that has lost the Warriors and soon will lose the Raiders.

But the breakups of the past have left too many scars. Only if this team finds its way deep into the postseason would those scars be easier to ignore.

A's Blake Treinen out 4-6 weeks with back injury; Chris Bassitt to bullpen

A's Blake Treinen out 4-6 weeks with back injury; Chris Bassitt to bullpen

OAKLAND -- The A's will be without reliever Blake Treinen for the rest of the regular season, and likely the postseason as well.

An MRI revealed a stress reaction in Treinen's back, an injury he expects to sideline him for at least four weeks.

"They told me it's typically a 4-6 week type recovery process just to make sure it's all gone," Treinen told NBC Sports California. "So if I'm symptom-free for two weeks with my activities and then we try to push it a little bit and nothing happens, then I could be good for a (playoff) series. I don't really know. My biggest thing is just trying to keep my head down and focus on strengthening myself in the weight room in the right areas without aggravating it."

Treinen, 31, says his back issues intensified a few weeks ago. The right-hander initially thought he could pitch through the discomfort, but the MRI made it clear he couldn't.

"It's one thing to have aches and pains and then be able to get some type of soft-tissue work," Treinen said. "That's what we were doing, but nothing was relieved."

After an All-Star season in 2018, Treinen has struggled this year, going 6-5 with a 4.91 ERA, the worst of his career. Still, his injury leaves the A's bullpen a man down, which is why starting pitcher Chris Bassitt volunteered to help out in relief.

"I just said, 'Listen, if you guys need me out of the bullpen in between starts or whatever it is, I'll do it,'" Bassitt said. "I've done it before, so it's not a big deal for me."

On Wednesday, Bassitt began to warm up in the 11th inning of the A's 1-0 win over the Royals, preparing to pitch the 12th. That didn't end up being necessary, but the right-hander's presence in the pen should certainly help Oakland moving forward.

Said A's manager Bob Melvin: "The way guys are pitching -- (Sean) Manaea back in the rotation -- we need some more depth in the bullpen and Bassitt was the first one that volunteered to do it and was all for it. So he's going to do whatever he can to help the team."

Oakland has been employing a six-man starting rotation, with Manaea, Bassitt, Homer Bailey, Tanner Roark, Brett Anderson, and Mike Fiers all getting regular starts. That depth is what allowed this move to the pen.

Bassitt, 30, is 10-5 with a 3.95 ERA in 25 games this season, all starts. But he has spent time in the bullpen earlier in his career, including last season when he made four relief appearances.

[RELATED: A's continue to be incredible second-half team]

"You look at my career, most of my career is out of the bullpen, so it's a very easy transition for me," Bassitt said. "I feel really good and I can give them a break if they need it."

Added Melvin: "He's a competitor and he's done both. ... That's one thing about Chris -- he's real versatile. He's pitched out of the bullpen, he's pitched length, he's pitched a couple of innings, so he's added depth for us."