Inside Pitch: Players-only meeting sparks A’s

A players-only meeting may have been just what the doctor ordered as the Oakland Athletics, particularly first baseman Billy Butler, have begun shown signs of life.

The Athletics (21-29) began their series against the Detroit Tigers (24-24) having lost six of their previous seven contests. Scoring 16 runs in the final two games of the three-game set, the A’s offense offered more than enough support to a pitching staff that has started to take shape.

The outburst came backing a pair of quality starts along with 5-2/3 innings of scoreless relief. In its only losing effort of the series Oakland pitching provided yet another quality start, as well as 3 frames of one-run bullpen work.

Oakland was a few clutch hits from a potential sweep, however, as the bats continued to struggle with runners in scoring position.

Fastball: Breaking out the big bats

In Saturday’s 12-3 win, the A’s posted season highs in hits (17) as well as runs. Led by home runs from Butler (1), Danny Valencia (7) and Khris Davis (14) the green and gold appeared to magic momentum from thin air. The outburst came one day after the lineup was silenced by rookie Tiger hurler Michael Fulmer (4-1, 3.97 ERA) in a 4-1 Friday night loss.

Valencia (.325/.354/.528 2016 slash) finished the series with six hits with Davis (.243/.272/.525) adding five, while Butler (.230/.260/.338) offered five RBIs.

Manager Bob Melvin was in a particularly light-hearted mood following the 12-run breakout, but said that repeating the success is key:

“You have to try to sustain these things. We had a period, after (the) Tampa (Bay Ray) and Texas (Rangers) series’, where we were swinging the bat really well, then we got cold after that. This shows us, *again*, that we have the ability to do it. We need to sustain it.”

Changeup: Butler

The second-year Athletic has seen sparing prosperity in his time with Oakland. In his first appearance of the series, as a pinch-hitter, Butler struck out with runners on second and third to end one of few threats in the eighth inning of Friday’s loss. The former Kansas City Royal was drenched with a smattering of boos and jeers, as he strode to the dugout hanging his head, seeing his batting average drop to the Mendoza Line.

In his very next at-bat, leading off the second inning of Saturday’s victory, “Country Breakfast” clobbered his first homer of the season well into the seats in left-center field. The big fella allowed the emotions of his first jack to seep out as he gave the fans a little shimmy coming out of the box, then flashed a smile towards his dugout as he rounded third.

Butler then added to his series success when, in another pinch-hitting appearance, he came up with a clutch sixth-inning, two-out single driving in the tying and go-ahead runs in Sunday’s 4-2 win.

Butler had spent the first nine years of his career as an every-day player, but has been relegated to a platoon role. Melvin said that his early trials, and recent triumph may have to do with the adjustment process:

“It’s not easy for a guy who is used to playing everyday. He knows what to expect, but whether or not he’s comfortable with it I don’t know. But I know he is prepared for those situations, and in the last two days he’s come through for us.”

Curveball: Veteran call players-only meeting leading to back-to-back wins

Prior to Friday night’s game, the Oakland veterans organized a players-only meeting, after the offense had scored just 22 runs in its previous eight games (2.75 per game) leading to seven losses.

Benefits were not immediately reaped, losing Friday’s game scoring a single run. But the offense enjoyed a drastic awaking from its slumber with its best performance in 2016.

Among the veterans leading the meeting were new A’s starter Rich Hill (8-3, 2.25 ERA) and Ryan Madson (11 saves, 2.53 ERA), as well as six-year Athletic Coco Crisp (.248/.299/.418).

While Hill would not give particulars of what was said, Sunday’s winning pitcher did say that the meeting revolved around the message of self-belief and rebuilding confidence:

“It’s just getting a conviction back, out there… All you can ask for, every single day, is that consistent effort.”

Sinker: The inability to finish rallies

Outside a 6-for-9 effort in Saturday’s eruption, the Oakland offense combined to go 2-for-10 (.200) with runners in scoring position.

Repairing what has been the A’s Achilles’ Heel through the first two months of the season could serve as the antidote to their under-.500 record.

In their sole loss of the series, the Athletic offense finished the gave having left six runners on base — three of which were stranded in scoring position in the final to two frames. Oakland was one clutch hit from sweeping a Tigers team which hosts high expectations.

Slider: Billy Burns

Burns (.253/292/.313) spent the entire month of April as the lead-off hitter. In May, though, his batting average has dropped by 55 points — from .278 to .233 — while his on-base percentage has fallen from .321 to .269.

The major league’s No. 4 base stealer (12) saw his average drop 13 point, from .266, over the weekend series alone, going hitless in 12 trips to the plate. He also contributed to the left-on-base problems, unable to knock in eight base runners.

The real problem that stem from his troubles, however, is that he isn’t creating those at-bats for his teammates. With his dynamic speed getting on first creates a rally in itself.

Pitchout: Scoring four against the Minnesota Twins (15-34)

While they will certainly look to continue their productive pitching, the A’s will be in search of the elusive fourth run.

When scoring four or more, Oakland is 14-6 (.700) — 7-23 (.233) when scoring three or less. Getting that fourth run will rely not just on the ability of Crisp and Burns to get on base, but also whether or not the run producers can get them in.Worth keeping an eye on is Davis, whose 11 home runs in the month of May is the most by an A’s hitter in any since Jason Giambi knocked out 13 in September 2000.

The Twins took the series, going 3-4 in head-to-head matchups a season ago.


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.