Inside Pitch: Valencia powers A’s to series win in Tampa

Oakland Athletics third baseman Danny Valencia landed in Tampa with zero home runs and three RBIs. He departed three days later with five home runs and 10 RBIs.

The A’s (16-22) limped into Tropicana Field, after taking a whooping at the hands of the Boston Red Sox (24-14). Receiving just one quality start, Oakland escaped Florida with two wins and a series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays (16-19), led by the Valencia outburst.

Former Ray Stephen Vogt (.238/.269/.369 2016 slash) scuffled his way through the series, finishing 0-for-11 with two strike outs. Both Sonny Gray (3-4, 5.84 ERA) and Kendall Graveman (1-5, 5.84 ERA) found outs tough to come by, continuing their tough stretches. Thirteen runs were enough, though, as the A’s ended a nine-game AL East road trip going 6.

Fastball (Team Strength): Turning on the power in the “Trop”

The “Swingin’ A’s” have hit 41 home runs through the first 38 games of the season (No. 15 in MLB). Playing a team that scores 57 percent of its runs on long balls, the Valencia (.342/.377/.589) and his teammates hit the power button, and played the Rays at their own game.

The Green and Gold finished the series with eight homers, scoring all but one of its 13 runs on round trippers.

Designated hitter Khris Davis (.217/.250/.428) triggered the barrage with a three-run jack in the first inning of Friday’s Game 1. It was his his ninth, tying him with Marcus Semien (.217/.307/.450) for the team lead.  Semien responded with a solo shot of his own three innings later. The real show, however was put on by Valencia, who followed his third career two-homer game on Friday with his first career three-homer game on Sunday.

Changeup (Top performing individual): Valencia

With seven RBIs, Valencia drove in more than half of the team’s runs in a much-needed series victory. In the Friday and Sunday games, he brought in what proved to be the winning run. He was also responsible for one of the two A”s hits in a 6-0 loss on Saturday.

The 31 year-old is 10 days removed from being activated off the 15-day DL. Given his thunderous return, it would appear that two weeks of rest is just what the former Minnesota Twin needs.

Curveball (Surprise of the series): Vogt goes 0-fer

Vogt has been among the most reliable A’s hitter through the first month-and-a-half of the season, seeing his average climb as high as .294.

After a four-hit series in Boston, the backstop’s 11-at-bat hitless trip to his former home field, Vogt has seen his average drop to .238. The lowest it has been since April 13 (.227). The series was the first time this season that Vogt has gone without a hit in three straight games.

Sinker (Team weakness): Starting pitching struggles continue

Once again, the starting pitching failed manager Bob Melvin. Only Rich Hill (5-3, 2.68 ERA) posted a start good enough to pick up a win, allowing three runs in six innings.

In fairness, three of Gray’s six runs allowed in a Sunday no-decision effort were unearned. But, the ace coughed up three homers and walked two batters, both things he does little of when pitching well. That is now four consecutive poor starts for the 26-year-old hurler.

Slider (Poor performing individual): Graveman

Like Gray, Graveman has hit a rough patch — allowing four or more runs in four straight starts. Unlike the ace, he doesn’t an All-Star track record to fall back on.

With Henderson Alvarez (career 27-34, 3.80 ERA) due to make his return from the DL this week, Graveman may have one last shot to prove he deserves the rotation spot he currently inhabits.

Valencia and the A’s will host the divisional rival Texas Rangers (22-16). Thirteen of the team’s next 16 games will be in Oakland, with a three-gamer in Seattle coming between six- and seven-game sets.


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.