Athletics

How A's Chris Bassitt suddenly has turned into a strikeout pitcher

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USATSI

How A's Chris Bassitt suddenly has turned into a strikeout pitcher

OAKLAND — Coming into the season, Chris Bassitt had never been known as a strikeout pitcher. The 30-year-old right-hander notched a career-high 64 punchouts in 2015 in 86 innings, for a pedestrian rate of 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

Bassitt achieved his best strikeout percentage last season when he struck out 41 batters in 47 2/3 innings, still only translating to 7.7 per nine frames. This year, he's taken it to another level.

Bassitt punched out nine Cincinnati Reds on Thursday in 7 2/3 innings, taking a tough-luck loss in Oakland's 3-0 defeat at the Coliseum. In four starts this season, Bassitt has already registered 31 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings, a rate of 11.3 per nine innings. That's the 15th-best mark in the majors among those with at least 20 innings pitched.

So how did Bassitt go from averaging fewer than seven strikeouts per nine innings to more than 11?

He actually credits his 2016 Tommy John surgery for teaching him how to pitch without dominant stuff.

"Your stuff is not that good coming back from Tommy John and you have to learn to pitch," Bassitt explained. "When you're throwing 89, 91, 92 (miles per hour), you've got to kind of learn to pitch without a really good fastball. Luckily for me, my fastball kind of came back and I was able to take what I learned from Tommy John and that whole process. When I'm back to throwing 95, 96 again, it makes life a whole heck of a lot easier."

Now three years removed from the surgery, Bassitt finally feels fully healthy again. As he noted, his fastball velocity is back up in the mid-90s and he compliments that pitch with a sinker, cutter, curveball, and changeup.

"A lot of movement," said A's manager Bob Melvin. "His curveball can be as slow as 66 or 67 and then a fastball at 95. Good movement on his sinker. He's got a cutter too."

It's not just the strikeout rate that has improved this season. Bassitt has done everything well. Despite Thursday's loss, he holds a 1-1 record with a 2.55 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. 

"He used his time wisely when he was on the injured list," Melvin said. "'How can I get better?' He's quicker to the plate at times. He does everything a little better and he's pitching with some confidence. So yeah, he's always had that in him."

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Bassitt says he doesn't specifically try to strike batters out, often preferring weak contact early in the count. But he is also confident in his ability to overpower hitters when he needs to.

"Do I think it's probably going to keep up like this? Probably not. But at the same time, I think I can punch a lot of guys out all the time."

A's vs. Twins lineups: Daniel Mengden gets ball in series finale

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USATSI

A's vs. Twins lineups: Daniel Mengden gets ball in series finale

The A's just keep on winning.

After dropping the series opener to the Twins on Thursday, the A's have responded with two straight wins in Minnesota, including a 5-4 win Saturday that was highlighted by a two-out, two-run single by Khris Davis in the ninth inning.

The A's now have won eight of their last nine games and will send right-hander Daniel Mengden to the mound for the series finale against the Twins on Sunday.  The Twins will counter with right-hander Michael Pineda.

Here are the full lineups for the A's-Twins game, which will be broadcast on NBC Sports California and the MyTeams app. Coverage begins at 10:30 a.m. PT, with first pitch at 11:10.

Oakland Athletics (57-42)
Marcus Semien, SS
Matt Chapman, 3B
Matt Olson, 1B
Mark Canha, RF
Ramon Laureano, CF
Khris Davis, DH
Robbie Grossman, LF
Jurickson Profar, 2B
Josh Phegley, C

Daniel Mengden, RHP (5-1, 4.21 ERA)

Minnesota Twins (59-38)
Max Kepler, CF
Jorge Polanco, SS
Nelson Cruz, DH
Eddie Rosario, LF
Miguel Sano, 3B
Marwin Gonzalez, RF
Luis Arraez, 2B
Ehire Adrianza, 1B
Jason Castro, CF

Michael Pineda, RHP (6-5, 4.38 ERA)

Why A's slugger Khris Davis' clutch hit vs. Twins was just what he needed

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NBC Sports California

Why A's slugger Khris Davis' clutch hit vs. Twins was just what he needed

A's slugger Khris Davis hasn't hit a home run in a month, but he has delivered for Oakland in each of its last two wins.

The night after notching two RBI singles, Davis drove home the tying and go-ahead runs in the A's 5-4 win against the Minnesota Twins on Saturday night at Target Field. Oakland was down to its last out, but had two men on base after Minnesota closer Taylor Rogers hit Mark Canha with a slider and allowed a double to Ramón Laureano. 

"Most of all I think it was big for Khris because he's come up big in those situations so many times for us and if anybody needed a little bit of a spark, it would be Khris," A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters after the game.  "That was a huge hit."

In addition to a sudden lack of power, Davis has seen his batting average fall. The 31-year-old is slashing just .218/.299/.244 since June 19 -- a day after he hit his last home run. 

But Davis now has hits in each of his last four games, and all but two since the All-Star break. Only one has been of the extra-base variety -- a double in Thursday's series opener with the Twins -- yet Melvin thinks it's only a matter of time before Davis regains his power.

"My guess is he's going to hit another home run here at some point," Melvin joked. "When he does, he's going to be off to the races. But, we'll take a big hit right there which he's done many times for us. He's felt better in the last few days. That was big for him, and it was big for us."

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Davis has two career home runs to his name at Target Field and will have a chance to add a third if he is in the lineup for Sunday's series finale in Minnesota. That would end a drought that pre-dates the start of the summer, and provide further proof that Davis is back on track.