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.

A's lower strikeout rate should help improve situational hitting

A's lower strikeout rate should help improve situational hitting

OAKLAND – We're still early in the MLB season, but through 27 games, the A's have been striking out at a noticeably lower rate than last year.

As a team, the A's have struck out in just 18 percent of their plate appearances this season, the second-best mark in the majors. Last year, Oakland ranked 18th in the league, striking out at a rate of 22.1 percent.

A’s manager Bob Melvin admits it’s probably too early in the season to really focus on those numbers, but he does credit hitting coach Darren Bush for the improvement.

“It’s just probably Bushy preparing them like he does and knowing the league a little bit more,” Melvin said. “The emphasis on trying to put the ball in play and staying within your zones – probably all those things add up.”

As noted by Athletics Nation's Alex Hall, three players have keyed the team’s improved contact rate: Marcus Semien, Chad Pinder and Matt Chapman.

Semien has lowered his strikeout percentage from 18.6 percent last year to 11.2 percent this season. Pinder has gone from 26.4 percent to 15.2 percent. Chapman has taken the biggest step of all, dropping from 23.7 percent all the way down to 10.2 percent this year.

Not surprisingly, all three players are having career years at the plate.

Pinder leads the team with a .320 batting average and ranks third with an .848 OPS. Semien is slashing .311/.379/.505 and looks like an All-Star at shortstop.

And then there’s Chapman. The A’s third baseman looks like a legitimate MVP candidate, hitting .311/.407/.633 with eight home runs and 18 RBI, while only striking out 11 times all season. Chapman is also on pace to shatter his previous career high in walks.

[RELATED: Chad Pinder making strong case to be in A's everyday lineup]

To this point, the decrease in strikeouts has not led to an increase in run production, but it is certainly putting more pressure on opposing defenses. Over the course of the season, it should also help the A’s improve their situational hitting, such as driving in a runner from third with less than two outs.

Oakland is still hitting for plenty of power, which means it will likely succumb to its share of strikeouts. But the improved contact rate this season is certainly a noticeable and welcome development.

Ex-A's reliever Shawn Kelley has no hard feelings toward former team

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AP

Ex-A's reliever Shawn Kelley has no hard feelings toward former team

OAKLAND -- After Shawn Kelley's stellar stretch run with the A's last season, it seemed likely he would return to Oakland as a free agent.

The 34-year-old right-hander appeared in 19 games last August and September, registering a 2.16 ERA and 0.78 WHIP, with 18 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings. But while there was initially mutual interest in a reunion, the A's decided to go in a different direction and Kelley signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract with the Texas Rangers.

"We talked from the very end of (the season) about getting something done," Kelley told NBC Sports California. "I think when they got (Joakim) Soria and gave him that money (two years, $15 million), my agent called right away because we were kind of worried. We had been talking to (A's general manager David) Forst. Both sides were like, 'Yeah, let's get something done.' When Soria signed, we kind of saw the writing on the wall. And then (Forst) wished me luck in whatever decision I made. He said, 'We spent a little on a couple of guys and so we wish you the best and thanks for everything you did coming over, but we're out of money.'"

Kelley says he carries no hard feelings toward his former squad, as he understands the business side of baseball. He still has a great relationship with his old teammates and manager.

"I talked to all the guys when they came to Texas and I talked to them (Tuesday)," Kelley said. "I went over and gave BoMel a big hug and told him, 'Man, I'm sorry. I wanted to be here. It just didn't work out.' That's part of it. It wasn't for a lack of effort. There was obviously genuine interest from me and definitely some genuine interest from their side. Things just go different ways sometimes in free agency."

Kelley has carried last year's success into this season with the Rangers. He is already 3-0 with a save and a 1.80 ERA, as well as a 0.80 WHIP. He has notched nine strikeouts in 10 innings without issuing a single walk.

"It's been great," Kelley said. "It's a good group. It kind of reminds me of what we had over there last year (with the A's), as far as a good mix of young guys with some veterans, a lot of energy, and a lot of will to not give in and keep fighting. It's been a good experience."

Kelley is extremely thankful for the opportunity the A's gave him last season, especially after the Nationals let him go following his now infamous -- and probably overblown -- glove-slamming incident. He believes his time in Oakland rejuvenated his career.

[RELATED: Versatile Pinder forcing way into everyday starting role]

"I had fun when I went over there and saw a renewed energy and passion for just going out and having fun and enjoying it, and it not feeling like work every day," Kelley said. "It was a great experience. I loved it."

For now, Kelley is happy to be a Texas Ranger, although he doesn't rule out a return to Oakland down the road.

"Hey, you never know," he smiled. "One day, I may be back."