Athletics

Why Jonathan Lucroy's value goes far beyond the stats for red-hot A's

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USATSI

Why Jonathan Lucroy's value goes far beyond the stats for red-hot A's

When the A's signed Jonathan Lucroy back in March, they knew they were getting a solid defensive catcher with a stellar reputation for working with pitching staffs. But the 32-year-old veteran has proven even more valuable than they ever imagined.

Through all the injuries to Oakland's starting pitchers, including nine DL stints and four Tommy John surgeries, Lucroy has held the rotation together. The A's have had to use 13 different starting pitchers, second only to the Rays (and let's be honest, they don't really count since they have decided to start relievers). In comparison, the first-place Astros have used the same five starters the entire season.

“He's a true quarterback and leader behind the plate,” A's manager Bob Melvin said of Lucroy. “The younger (pitchers) don't even think about shaking him off because he's so well prepared.”

“He's a student of the game,” added starting pitcher Mike Fiers, who played five seasons with Lucroy in Milwaukee. “He does his homework before every game.”

Lucroy has helped the A's to a team ERA of 3.83, fourth best in the American League. That's especially impressive considering that 60 percent of the starting rotation began the season in the minor leagues. So what's Lucroy's secret?

“I try to get them to simplify as much as I can,” he said. “I've caught a lot of guys who overanalyze things and make it harder on themselves than it should be. I just get them to worry about execution and throwing strikes. That's it. ... The more you simplify it, the more you just throw strikes, get ahead of hitters, and execute, the more successful you're going to be.”

Lucroy has also helped the pitching staff with his arm, throwing out 20 would-be base stealers this season, tied for the most in MLB. He has been extremely durable, starting 88 games at catcher to lead the AL. But perhaps his biggest impact has been in the clubhouse.

“Since the day he got here, he's been one of the bigger personalities and one of the leaders of the team,” Melvin praised. “He has just been a great addition.”

“There are no egos in here,” Lucroy said. “Guys are pretty humble and down to earth. There's no one player in here who wants more attention than anybody else. We don't even want attention. We just want to go out and play hard and win. ... I've never been on a team that's like that before, where it's been so prevalent throughout the clubhouse, that same kind of train of thought. It's pretty cool to see and be a part of. I think that's one of the biggest reasons why we're successful.”

A's notes: Oakland completes best 50-game stretch since 2005

A's notes: Oakland completes best 50-game stretch since 2005

OAKLAND — On June 15, the A's were 34-36, 11 games out of a playoff spot. Since then, all they've done is rattle off 38 wins against 12 losses, their best 50-game stretch in 13 years. Even more incredible, 20 of those 38 wins have been of the comeback variety, and 14 have seen the winning run scored in the eighth inning or later. Oakland has only lost one of its last 17 series (14-1-2), moving within a game of first-place Houston in the AL West.

--- The A's won their 65th straight game when leading at the end of the seventh inning, matching the longest such streak in franchise history (July 21, 1927 – June 23, 1928). Oakland is 50-0 this season when leading at the end of the seventh, and 59-0 when leading at the end of the eighth.

--- Matt Chapman doubled and walked to extend his career-high on-base streak to 28 games. It's the longest active streak in the American League. Chapman also extended his career-high hitting streak to 12 games.

--- Marcus Semien hit his third home run in the last four games. He is 9 for his last 17 with three home runs, six RBI, and seven runs scored.

--- Jonathan Lucroy threw out Dee Gordon attempting to steal second base in the eighth inning. Lucroy leads MLB with 22 runners caught stealing this season.

--- The A's have won 11 of their last 12 home games, and 17 of their last 20. For the season, Oakland is 35-23 at the Coliseum.

--- The A's improved to 25-10 in one-run games, the best record in MLB. Seattle fell to 30-16 in one-run contests.

--- Felix Hernandez made his first career relief appearance after making 398 starts. Only Mike Mussina made more career starts before his first relief appearance.

Mike Fiers battles through injury to earn first win with A's

Mike Fiers battles through injury to earn first win with A's

OAKLAND — In the hours leading up to first pitch Tuesday night, Bob Melvin wasn't even sure Mike Fiers would be his starting pitcher.

“He almost didn't make the start,” Melvin said after the game. “He had a lower back/upper glute issue. I had two (lineup) cards made out. I had potentially (Yusmeiro) Petit starting that game.”

Fortunately Fiers was able to battle through the injury and pitch six strong innings, earning his first win as a member of the Athletics.

“I was fine,” Fiers said. “Everyone's not 100 percent this part of the season, but I was fine. I just had a little something going on, but nothing serious at all.”

After allowing a run in the first inning, Fiers settled in and allowed just one more run in the next five innings. He struck out five batters, without issuing a walk.

“The first couple of innings, I was a little worried about him,” Melvin admitted. “He seemed to loosen up and get better as the game went along. But to think that he was going to give us six innings -- he was pitching on adrenaline.”

“I didn't feel anything,” Fiers said. “I just had a little muscle cramp. It was nothing. I just had to stretch and get a little active warmup in, and it went away.”

Fiers has allowed three runs or fewer in each of his last nine starts, lowering his ERA from 4.29 to 3.38. In two starts with the A's, he has given up just three runs in 11 1/3 innings, for an ERA of 2.38, with 13 strikeouts and no walks.

“They all feel like playoff games,” Fiers said. “This is the spot I wanted to be in. I wanted to be on a team that's winning and heading for the playoffs.”

Fiers has already helped the A's in their playoff push, and he figures to be a vital piece the rest of the season.

“To have a guy go out there and give us a quality start, we're going to need that down the stretch,” said second baseman Jed Lowrie.

“He just goes out there and competes, throws strikes, and goes after guys,” added third baseman Matt Chapman. “It's fun to play defense behind a guy like that.”

“I feel like this team has a lot of trust in me,” Fiers said. “I don't want to let them down. I want to pitch well and give them everything I've got.”