A’s hold tight to early lead to defeat Houston

Oakland starter Jesse Chavez shined over a strong seven innings and tacked on a win for himself in a 2-1 victory against the Houston Astros.

With Saturday’s victory under their belt the Oakland starting pitchers have allowed one run or fewer in seven of the last nine games with a 3.06 ERA for the season.

Chavez (W, 6-11, 3.73 ERA) had some help early on from newbie Danny Valencia, claimed off waivers from Toronto on Monday. Valencia took a pause from third base to try the designated hitter’s helmet on for size, a hat that could suit him well.

This story will be updated with post-game quotes and additional material from the A’s clubhouse.

Valencia extended his hitting streak to a three games with a double into deep right field during the first inning. Billy Burns and Coco Crisp — who previously drew back-to-back walks from righty Collin McHugh — scored, giving the home team a 2-0 advantage.

Catcher Stephen Vogt is thoroughly impressed by Valencia’s offense given his sample size as an Athletic:

“He can do that kind of damage anywhere…I’m surprised we got him, he has some pretty outrageous numbers to be DFA’d.”

Chavez came off a rough 9-2 loss against Baltimore Monday where he lasted just 3-2/3 innings and gave up five runs before being sent to the showers.

Left fielder Preston Tucker landed a punch to Chavez’s gut in the top of the third, sending a 1-1 curve ball over the right field wall.

5-foot-10, 200-pound third baseman Luis Valbuena sent right fielder Josh Reddick scrambling to the 330-foot mark. Valbuena chugged his way to second and beat the throw from Reddick as shortstop Marcus Semien couldn’t hang on during the tag.

The A’s escaped what might have been a bad inning after Chris Carter lined out to left field and Hank Conger went down on strikes.

Chavez (7 IP, six hits, three walks, eight strikeouts) pitched well, throwing 106 pitches before being replaced by Drew PomeranzEdward Mujica came on in the ninth to seal his first save of the season.

There were some struggles in the middle innings and manager Bob Melvin considered pulling the plug on Chavez in the sixth inning:

“I was thinking about even pulling the plug in the sixth on him, but the sixth and seventh were his best two innings. …. His best stuff came later in the game and that’s when we needed him.”

Vogt credits Chavez’s turnaround to an improved cutter and four-seam fastball. Chavez credited it to not rushing himself on the mound and taking things pitch-by-pitch. But Melvin says his changes weren’t mechanical:

 “It was a testament to his fortitude. He wanted to be out there and he knew he had to get outs without any room for error. It was really about getting out there and believing in yourself.”

And getting some run support. Which Valencia seems to be involved in every night since he was claimed on waivers.

Valencia notched his 15th career multi-hit game Saturday, and his second with the A’s. He’s hit in exactly half of his 14 at bats in the green and gold, and is quickly making friends in the A’s clubhouse.

Oakland needed one or two big offensive plays a week during the first half of the season in order to maintain a winning record. If they had that, and cut down on the many early season errors they’ve gotten better at, this could be a team leading the pack in the division.

Meanwhile, Houston is falling down to earth a bit. The Astros have a one game lead in the American League West after blazing a trail much more noteworthy during the first half.

They’re 1-5 on their road trip, which concludes Sunday, and are looking an awful lot like the A’s of 2014 — dominating the first 81 games before turning in for slaughter in the last 81.

While the A’s playoff hopes are gone, they know that there are still things to play for. Pride, a paycheck, and their futures.

The remaining 50 games of 2015 should be a proving ground for players like Burns, Valencia, along with pitchers Aaron Brooks and Chris Bassitt. The youth movement in Oakland has an opportunity to fine tune some of the nuanced elements of their game, and have excelled so far.

The win against Houston, and a chance to win the series Sunday, is a good sign for what the A’s could be capable of in the coming season.