Athletics

How Marcus Semien has thrived as A's everyday leadoff hitter this year

How Marcus Semien has thrived as A's everyday leadoff hitter this year

OAKLAND -- A's manager Bob Melvin could probably talk about Marcus Semien forever and still not run out of superlatives.

Oakland's shortstop is one of the hardest workers in all of baseball, as evidenced by his massive improvement defensively over the past few years. This season, Semien has taken his offensive production to another level as well.

The 28-year-old is slashing .280/.365/.443 with 10 home runs, 36 RBI, and 48 runs scored. He's on pace to set career-highs in nearly every major offensive category, including hits, walks, runs, and RBI.

"He's just become a complete player," Melvin praised. "Offensively, defensively, he's got leadership qualities, he's out there every day. There are a lot of things to like about Marcus Semien. He continues to get better and I don't see that slowing down either. He's very aware of what he needs to work on and what it takes to get better.

"Nobody works harder."

It probably seems crazy now, but Oakland actually entered the season without a set leadoff hitter. That changed in a hurry, as Semien grabbed the role and didn't let go.

"I just want to get on base," he said. "That's what I've been trying to do more of this year and just stay in the strike zone. ... I've been walking more too. I'm just trying to get on base for the middle of the order."

Semien has certainly done that. He is currently riding a career-high 14-game hitting streak, batting .390 with three home runs, four doubles, and 11 RBI during that stretch.

"Better direction, better timing with the fastball and then being able to take the pitches out of the zone, those offspeed pitches," Semien explained. "You get in better counts, and when you're catching up to the fastball and hitting in good counts, good things will happen."

Semien's .365 on-base percentage ranks fifth among major league shortstops. Prior to this season, he had never posted an on-base percentage higher than .325.

"I used to lead him off against lefties and not righties," Melvin said. "Now we're comfortable leading him off (against either). ... He sets the table for a lot of guys. You see the RBI through the lineup. A lot of it has to do with him being on base quite a bit."

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Semien has also reduced his strikeout rate from a year ago, punching out just 47 times in 296 at-bats (15.9 percent). Last season, he struck out 131 times in 632 at-bats (20.7 percent).

"I can't say enough about what he means to this team," Melvin said. "He hits the ball the other way. If you shift on him, he'll shoot the ball in the hole. He's just very aware of what's going on out there and he shows up on both ends."

A's bullpen struggles again, wastes Mike Fiers start in loss to Twins

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A's bullpen struggles again, wastes Mike Fiers start in loss to Twins

Mike Fiers left Thursday's game against the Minnesota Twins in line for his eighth consecutive win. Unfortunately for Fiers, the A's bullpen couldn't protect the lead for him.

That's become an unwelcome trend this season and continued in Thursday's 6-3 loss, as Oakland blew its 17th save of the season, third-most in the AL.

Yusmeiro Petit entered the game with two on and one out in the seventh inning and the A's leading 3-1. Minnesota's Eddie Rosario belted Petit's very first pitch over the right field wall for a three-run home run, and the Twins rallied back for the series-opening victory.

"It probably crept a little bit more towards the middle than he wanted it," A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters Thursday after the game. "But he's been a guy who's been doing (the job) for us in that situation all year. Every now and then you're going to give one up. Give (Rosario) credit. He put a good swing on it."

Fiers ended up with a no-decision and his win streak remains alive at seven. The right-hander delivered his 11th straight quality start, allowing three earned runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings, with four strikeouts and four walks.

Fiers wasn't quite as sharp as he has been recently, but Fiers still found a way to limit the damage despite the many baserunners. He recorded the first out of the seventh inning, before allowing a double and a walk to put the tying runs on base.

At that point, Fiers had made 89 pitches and Melvin had a decision to make. Oakland's skipper elected to turn to his bullpen.

"It's a hot night, he's back out there again for the seventh inning, gives up a hit and a walk," Melvin explained. "So it's a situation where we usually bring (Petit) in. You've got to give Rosario credit. He hit a good pitch."

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Lou Trivino also had a rough night out of the A's bullpen, surrendering a pair of home runs in the eighth inning to give the Twins some insurance. Oakland's 'pen has only converted 56 percent of save opportunities this season, seventh-worst in the majors.

The A's bullpen has actually performed much better as of late, so perhaps this is just a minor hiccup. Oakland will try to even the series Friday night when they send Chris Bassitt to the mound.

A's vs. Twins lineups: Matt Chapman out, Chad Pinder to start at third

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A's vs. Twins lineups: Matt Chapman out, Chad Pinder to start at third

The A's will be without All-Star third baseman Matt Chapman as they take aim at their seventh straight win Thursday night in Minnesota.
 
Chapman left Wednesday's game after two innings with left ankle soreness and is considered day-to-day. He told reporters his absence is just precautionary and he should play on Friday.
 
"It just stiffened up on my throw across the diamond (in the top of the first) and then when I took that swing in the box (in the bottom of the first), it kind of just like caught, and then it didn't feel right," Chapman said after the game. "So it was more precautionary than anything."
 
Chad Pinder will fill in at third base and hit eighth in the order. Pinder homered in Wednesday's win, one of six A's home runs in the game. Jurickson Profar hit two homers of his own and will get another start at second base and bat seventh.
 
Designated hitter Khris Davis will hit sixth for the second straight game, with right fielder Mark Canha in the cleanup spot again. Canha notched his first career two-homer game on Wednesday.
 
Veteran right-hander Mike Fiers will be on the mound for Oakland, seeking his eighth straight win and 11th consecutive quality start. Fiers, 34, ranks second among American League starters with a 2.31 ERA since April 26. For the season, he is 9-3 with a 3.61 ERA.
 
Fiers is 6-1 with a 2.66 ERA in 12 career appearances against Minnesota, including 11 starts. Earlier this month, he allowed two runs (one earned) in six innings in a no-decision against the Twins.
 
Minnesota will counter with right-hander Kyle Gibson. The 31-year-old is 8-4 this season with a 4.03 ERA. In five career starts against the A's, he is 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA.
 
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 4:30 p.m. PT, with first pitch at 5:10.
 
Oakland A's (55-41)
Marcus Semien, SS
Robbie Grossman, LF
Matt Olson, 1B
Mark Canha, RF
Ramón Laureano, CF
Khris Davis, DH
Jurickson Profar, 2B
Chad Pinder, 3B
Josh Phegley, C

Mike Fiers, RHP (9-3, 3.61 ERA)
 
Minnesota Twins (58-36)
Max Kepler, CF
Mitch Garver, C
Nelson Cruz, DH
Marwin Gonzalez, LF
C.J. Cron, 1B
Luis Arraez, 2B
Miguel Sanó, 3B
Jake Cave, RF
Ehire Adrianza, SS
 
Kyle Gibson, RHP (8-4, 4.03 ERA)