Athletics

Instant Replay: A's slug their way past Mariners in series opener

Instant Replay: A's slug their way past Mariners in series opener

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OAKLAND – On many a night last year, a tough left-hander such as James Paxton meant trouble for the A’s.

They instead flipped that script Thursday, chasing Paxton in the fifth inning and hitting their way to a 9-6 victory over the Seattle Mariners to open a four-game series at the Coliseum.

Paxton, who hadn’t allowed a single run over his first three starts of 2017, got touched for five runs and left after Ryon Healy’s RBI single in the bottom of the fifth. It figured the A’s would have to bring the offense with Cesar Valdez making his first big league start on the mound in seven years. They responded with an 11-hit attack and their second consecutive game scoring nine runs. In doing so, they ran their winning streak to season-high three games and got back to the .500 mark at 8-8.

The A’s scored an American League-low 166 runs off lefties last season and had the lowest on-base percentage (.298). But they’ve now beaten lefty starters each of the past two days. On Wednesday they scored four runs in the first and made it a quick day for the Rangers’ Martin Perez.

Paxton entered the night on a roll, not having allowed a run over 21 innings in his first three starts. That made him jus the 10th pitcher since 1900 to begin the season with three consecutive starts of at least six scoreless innings. But after Seattle jumped out to a 3-0 lead, the A’s battled back.

They led 6-5 when Trevor Plouffe, who struck out in his first three at-bats, drilled a three-run homer in the seventh to give the A’s some cushion.

On a down note for Oakland, Rajai Davis was replaced in center field for the ninth after he had trouble making it down the first-base line on a grounder in the previous inning.

Starting pitching report

The night started out rough for Valdez in his first major league start since 2010. The Mariners knocked him around for three runs on five hits over the first two innings, but that was it off the 32-year-old journeyman, who was called up for the start with Kendall Graveman on the disabled list. Valdez was pulled after just four innings and 76 pitches, but he kept the A’s in the game and didn’t force Bob Melvin to blow through his entire bullpen.

Bullpen report

Taylor Motter tied the game with a two-run homer off Frankie Montas in the sixth. Otherwise, it was stellar work from the A’s relief corps. Ryan Dull (1-1) picked up the victory, Sean Doolittle retired Robinson Cano for a key out in the seventh and Ryan Madson and Santiago Casilla closed it out.

At the plate

It’s good news for the A’s to see Ryon Healy regaining his stroke. He finished 3-for-3 with two RBI and a walk, and is now 7-for-9 over his past four games. Plouffe’s three-run homer was a liner to left that had to feel good after his three strikeouts before that. The A’s capitalized on Seattle’s defensive mistakes and got contributions up and down the order.

In the field

The A’s played their second consecutive errorless game and turned in a couple of excellent plays in the infield. Jed Lowrie, fielded Mitch Haniger’s broken-bat bloop near second base, stepped on the bag and threw to first to complete a double play that got Valdez out of the second. Healy made a nifty backhand stop on Jarrod Dyson’s chopper, keeping the Mariners’ most dangerous runner off the bases in the seventh. Conversely, the Mariners shot themselves in the foot at the wrong time. Center fielder Leonys Martin let Rajai Davis get by him for a two-base error, and Davis wound up scoring on Adam Rosales’ sacrifice fly in the fifth.

Attendance

Just 10,707 were on hand at the Coliseum.

Up next

Sean Manaea (0-1, 5.51) matches up against Hisashi Iwakuma (0-1, 5.40) on Friday night at 7:05 p.m. The A’s lefty is holding opponents to a .138 batting average, third-best in the American League. But he has walked nine in 16 1/3 innings and has hit four batters, most in the majors.

Astros, Angels look like A's biggest competition in new-look AL West

Astros, Angels look like A's biggest competition in new-look AL West

After a busy offseason, the AL West could look a lot different than it did a year ago. Every team in the division lost key pieces and will have to adjust to new faces in the clubhouse.

In 2018, the A's made a surprising run to the AL Wild Card game by winning 97 games. But the Astros won the division with 103 victories and are again the heavy favorites to repeat as AL West champions.

Oakland's run to another playoff berth will be challenging, as they've suffered injuries to slugger Matt Olson and top prospect Jesús Luzardo

Regardless, the A's enter 2019 with the goal of playing October baseball once again. But to do so, they'll have to outlast a remade AL West.

[RELATED: MLB Power Rankings]

Here's a breakdown of the A's competition entering the season:

The Favorite: Houston Astros

Newcomers: Michael Brantley (OF), Robinson Chirinos (C), Aledmys Diaz (SS), Wade Miley (SP)

What they lost: Dallas Keuchel (SP), Charlie Morton (SP), Tony Sipp (RP), Marwin Gonzalez (OF), Martin Maldonado (C), Evan Gattis (DH)

Despite losing Charlie Morton and possibly Dallas Keuchel in free agency, the Astros are once again a heavy favorite to win the AL West crown. Houston added left-hander Wade Miley to join Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Collin McHugh in the starting rotation, and their bullpen is still one of the best in baseball.

The Astros will also feature a deep and dynamic lineup, led by MVP candidates Alex Bregman and José Altuve. Michael Brantley and Robinson Chirinos are solid additions and the club returns Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Yuli Gurriel as well.

Until they are dethroned, the Astros are the team to beat in the AL West.

The Contender: Los Angels Angels

Newcomers: Trevor Cahill (SP), Matt Harvey (SP), Cody Allen (RP), Justin Bour (1B), Jonathan Lucroy (C)

What they lost: Garrett Richards (SP), Jose Alvarez (RP), Blake Parker (RP)

The Angels believe they have addressed their starting pitching issues by signing Matt Harvey and former A's pitcher Trevor Cahill. The two veteran right-handers will join Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, and Jaime Barria in the rotation.

Los Angeles also improved its bullpen by signing former Indians closer Cody Allen. The 30-year-old struggled last season but put together four straight impressive years before that.

The Angels lineup should be productive with Mike Trout, Justin Upton, Albert Pujols, Justin Bour, and Kole Calhoun doing most of the damage. If they find a way to get consistent pitching, they could challenge for a Wild Card spot, if not the division title.

Stock falling: Texas Rangers

Newcomers: Lance Lynn (SP), Jesse Chavez (RP), Shawn Kelley (RP), Shelby Miller (SP), Hunter Pence (OF)

What they lost: Adrián Beltré (3B), Jurickson Profar (INF), Robinson Chirinos (C), Matt Moore (SP), Alex Claudio (RP)

The Rangers could be in for a long season. After winning just 67 games a year ago, Texas lost Adrián Beltré to retirement and Jurickson Profar to the A's.

The Rangers' pitching staff was the biggest problem last season, finishing with a combined ERA of 4.93. That ranked 28th out of MLB's 30 teams. Texas did add starters Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller, as well as relievers Jesse Chavez and former Athletic Shawn Kelley.

The Rangers may be slightly better than last year, but it will be a massive surprise if they end up anywhere near .500.

Roster overhaul: Seattle Mariners

Newcomers: Yusei Kikuchi (SP), Hunter Strickland (RP), Cory Gearrin (RP), Edwin Encarnación (DH), Mallex Smith (OF), Jay Bruce (OF), Domingo Santana (OF), Tim Beckham (SS)

What they lost: Edwin Diaz (RP), James Paxton (SP), Nelson Cruz (DH), Robinson Cano (2B), Jean Segura (SS), Juan Nicasio (RP), Alex Colome (RP), Mike Zunino (C), Ben Gamel (OF)

Despite winning 89 games last year, the Mariners completely overhauled their roster with an eye on the future. Seattle cut ties with stars like Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Nelson Cruz, and Robinson Cano.

The Mariners did add highly-touted Japanese pitcher Yusei Kikuchi and former Giants closer Hunter Strickland, both of whom pitched well against the A's last week in Tokyo. Seattle's lineup was also productive in the season-opening series against Oakland.

While the Mariners are a long shot to contend, they certainly have talent and could surprise teams in the AL West.

Matt Olson optimistic A's can fill void at first base in his absence

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USATSI

Matt Olson optimistic A's can fill void at first base in his absence

OAKLAND – It really was a freak injury. One swing of the bat, a seemingly inconsequential foul ball.

But during Thursday's loss to the Seattle Mariners in Tokyo, Matt Olson knew right away something was wrong.

"I generally have a pretty high pain tolerance," the A's first baseman said Sunday. "I couldn't grip the bat when I came back (to the dugout) so I knew something was up."

It turned out Olson had fractured the hamate bone in his right hand. He underwent hamate excision surgery Friday in Los Angeles, and will be out indefinitely.

"It sucks," Olson admitted. "The timing of it is good and bad. Good because I get five or six days here to get ahead, but it sucks because it's the beginning of the year and you work all offseason to get to this point."

A's manager Bob Melvin added: "There are certain guys who you feel like are a little more replaceable than others. He's a tough one. ... He makes everybody in the infield better. All you've got to do is get it over in his direction. He's got a wide wingspan and he picks everything out of the dirt.

"It's tough not having him out there, but that's why we have a Mark Canha, a (Jurickson) Profar, and a Chad Pinder. It gives somebody else an opportunity."

Olson was not given a timetable for his return, but he noted a wide variance in other players with the same injury, anywhere from four to eight weeks. While he's obviously disappointed, he believes the team can survive without him.

"We've got guys -- Canha, Pinder, (Franklin) Barreto, and Profar -- all of those guys are very established and have good at-bats," Olson said. "They're guys who are going to get more at-bats because of it. I don't think it's a bad thing. It sucks for me, but I'm glad these guys are going to get a little more regular playing time."

[RELATED: A's have options at first base in light of Olson injury]

Although he hasn't missed any games yet, Olson joked he has already experienced the effects of sporting a cast on his right hand in his everyday life.

"I had to go to the store today to get stuff for my apartment. I got a ton of stuff. Then I got to the apartment complex, and thought I was going to have to make like five trips because I can only carry things with one hand," he laughed.

As Olson adjusts to life with just one functional hand, the A's must adjust to life without Olson's powerful bat in the lineup and his slick glove in the field. In both cases, it will be a difficult process.