Inside Pitch: A’s ride pitching to sweep of Yanks

With their win Thursday, the Oakland Athletics clinched a sweep of the Yankees in New York for the first time since June 2006.

Riding pitching and clutch hits, the A’s worked through four errors over the three-game series. In welcoming a three-hit, three-RBI series from struggling left fielder Khris Davis, and another strong road start from lefty Rich Hill, little went wrong for Oakland aside from the fielding blunders.

Fastball (Team Strength): Starting pitching

So far a weakness for the A’s in the early goings of 2016, a trio of Oakland starters lasted a combined 18 innings, while allowing just five runs (four earned).

In a 3-2 11-inning win Tuesday, Eric Surkamp lasted a season-high 5-2/3 innings, allowing seven hits and two runs, perhaps staving off replacement for another trip through the rotation.

Kendall Graveman — three hits, one run and eight strike outs in 6-1/3 innings — and Hill — three hits, two runs (one earned) and 10 strike outs in 6 innings — each posted a quality start. The deep starts by the trio meant that an overworked bullpen was forced to go just five innings, including two extras on Tuesday.

The Oakland rotation now boasts the American League’s best starters’ ERA (2.80), and has increased its average innings per outing to 5-2/3.

Change-up (Top individual performer): Mark Canha

Canha had seen limited action — just 12 at-bats in 13 games — coming into the series. After striking out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning on Tuesday, however, the first baseman pulled an 0-2 slider into left field, driving in Jed Lowrie in the eleventh for what proved to be the winning run.

Getting the start in Thursday’s 7-3 win, Canha went the other way with a 2-2 slider, riding it into the seats in right-center to tie the game at two in the fifth. In the ninth, he added a sacrifice fly for his third RBI of the series.

Regular first baseman Yonder Alonso has picked a flawless first base thus far, but has struggled with the bat in a new league. With hits off of a pair of right-handers, Canha has presented himself as an option against pitchers from either side, which will either force Alonso to improve or be replaced.

Curveball (Surprise of the series): Chris Coghlan two-run homer

With a two-run home run in the eighth inning on Thursday, Coghlan became the first Athletics hitter not named Josh Reddick to hit a homer with a runner on base this season.

Despite hitting 16 bombs (T-6 AL) through 16 games this season, Oakland has collected a minuscule total of 20 RBIs on round-trippers, as 13 have been of the solo fashion. It hasn’t just been the long ball, as A’s hitters have combined for a .206 average with runners on base — third-worst in MLB.

A recent rise in that number, though, has powered the green and gold to its current five-game winning streak — .255 over the past six games.

Sinker (Team weakness): Team defense

The team’s Achilles’ Heel in the early season, the A’s commit a total of four errors in New York. Danny Valencia, Stephen Vogt, Billy Burns and Hill bungled one each.

With the aid of three double plays and a pickoff from Surkamp, though, the damage was limited to just one unearned run in the series.

For Hill, it was the second errant throw on a pickoff attempt, which is a red flag. The normally sure-handed Vogt, with a catcher’s interference, and Burns, with a bobble, are much less worrisome. But for Valencia, who was put on the 15-day disabled list on Friday and replaced by Tyler Ladendorf,  it was error No. 4 on the season, something worth watching.

Slider (Poor performing individual): Alonso

After flashing signs of offensive production against the Kansas City Royals, Alonso picked up just one hit in nine at-bats in Yankee Stadium, while stranding a total of seven runners. With his average dropping to a lowly .130, the career .270 hitter was shown the bench in place of the right-handed hitting side of the first base platoon against the right-hander Luis Severino.

Because of his excellent defensive work, manager Bob Melvin can afford added patience with bat of the former San Diego Padre, as he was put right back into the starting lineup on Friday.

Carrying a perfect 6-0 record on the road this season, and a five-game winning streak, the A’s (9-7) will now face off with 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson and the Toronto Blue Jays (8-9) in a weekend three-game set.


Kalama Hines is SFBay’s Oakland Athletics beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @HineSight_2020 on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of A’s baseball.