Inside pitch: Graveman, Davis lead A’s in opening week

The Oakland Athletics experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in week one of 2017.

One day after sealing an Opening Day win for just the second time in 13 years the, A’s (3-4) fell victim to late-game heroics losing to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In just over 24 hours, Oakland was forced through an emotional roller coaster.

They responded well, though, thanks in large part to an early season power emergence from the heart of the order and a second gem from an unassuming ace. But it wasn’t all hearts and flowers as Oakland’s fifth starter lost his spot, and 67 percent of the A’s home runs were of the solo variety.

Fastball: Riding the longball

Behind Khris Davis (3) and Ryon Healy (2), the “Swingin’ A’s” finished the first week of the new campaign tied with the Texas Rangers (2-4) and Washington Nationals (3-3) for the major league lead in team home runs (9).

Not only is this a positive for an Oakland offense that finished 2016 with the fourth-fewest homers (169) in the American League, it is especially compelling considering the sources.

Davis, a notoriously slow starter, hit just three all of April last season before finishing with 42 — becoming the fifth player in Oakland A’s history to clear 40. And it has been a cold month for him since entering the league in 2013. “Khrush” has produced just 10 big flies combined in the season’s opening month (including the three this year). The 10 matches his career output in June despite having logged nearly twice as many games played — 89 career games in March and April, 48 in June.

Healy, entering his second season and first full season, should be expected to take a small step backwards in his progression having given big league pitchers and pitching coaches a chance to examine his weaknesses.

That being said, if he can maintain the power numbers and control the lapse in his batting average — currently at .174 — he will remain an integral part of the A’s lineup through his “Sophomore Slump,” setting himself up well for the future.

Yonder Alonso, Jed Lowrie, Matt Joyce and Stephen Vogt added one bomb apiece.

Changeup: The new ace

Kendall Graveman (2-0, 2.08 ERA) got the first Opening Day nod of his career, and he responded by giving his squad 6 stellar innings holding the Angels to six hits while striking out seven.

Proving the first was not an anomaly, the 26-year-old improved upon that start the next time out by stunting the high-powered Rangers to one run over 7, and holding them without a hit until a two-out homer by Mike Napoli (1) in the seventh.

In the absence of Sonny Gray (expected to return in late-April), Graveman has secured a firm grip on the No. 1 role in a pitching staff starved for such a man. His four rotation mates have combined to serve up 22 runs in just 23-1/3, even with Andrew Triggs twirling 5-2/3 scoreless in collecting Thursday’s win.

April and May have been tough months in Graveman’s career, with the righty logging a 6-8 record and 4.88 ERA combined over his four big league seasons — 18 starts. If he can continue on this roll through the season’s first two months, the sinker-baller could plant his name in All-Star consideration with June (2.87 ERA) and July (3.57 ERA) holding much better career numbers.

Curveball: Base-swiping Semien

Marcus Semien had stolen 26 bases in his three-plus previous years. That number is somewhat surprising, given his above-average speed and normal spot in the nine-hole of the Oakland batting order — a spot that is often called upon for steals.

Perhaps even more surprising, however, is his three steals (on three attempts) through the first seven games of this season. The slugging shortstop established himself as a legitimate power threat in 2016, launching 27 bombs to lead AL shortstops — Brad Miller (30) hit just 19 while slotted in the defensive position.

Semien has his work cut out for him, should he attempt to lead his position in stolen bases — Elvis Andrus did so last year with 24 — but he couldn’t have asked for a better first week. If nothing else, the San Francisco native is almost certain to sprint past his single season career high of 11.

Sinker: Not getting on

After coming in last in team on-base percentage a year ago (.304) the A’s front office made it a goal to improve that number in the offseason.

Thus far, however, the addition of Joyce and Rajai Davis to the top of the order has not taken the intended effect. Through the first seven contests the A’s have settled into the middle of the pack (No. 9 AL), but the .300 clip is nowhere near good enough.

The last time Oakland qualified for the postseason (2014) the club got on to the tune of a .320 OBP (No. 5, AL). In their last division title (2013), that number was at .327 (No. 6).

Six game is nowhere near the type of sample size to cause concern. But an improved on-base average will lead to fewer solo homers — six of nine thus far have come with the bases empty — more runs and more wins.

Slider: Alcantara falls off the rotation

Entering Spring Training, Raul Alcantara was the only Athletic on the bubble who was without a minor league option. Due to that, and the fact that Jesse Hahn — 1-2, 8.80 ERA in the spring — did nothing to secure the position for himself, Alcantara was almost gifted the five spot in the rotation.

In a five-start foray into the bigs in 2016, the 24-year-old went 1-3 with a 7.25 ERA. In his first starting assignment this year he fared far worse, coughing up eight runs before departing after just 2 frames. He gave up just four hits (two home runs) but, as was his problem in 2016, a lack of control maximized the opposition’s production off those minimal hits.

Over 22-1/3 last season, Alcantara (0-1, 36.00 ERA) walked four and hit four more. On Friday, he walked two and hit another. While the A’s have had trouble getting men on in front of homers, doing the opposite was the starter’s downfall serving up two homers yielding six in a 10-5 loss.

Hahn came on in relief, working 6 strong allowing two runs. At least temporarily, Hahn has seized the No. 5 spot and will get the nod when the spot rolls around Thursday in Kansas City.

Pitchout:

Next up for the green and gold is a three-game set against the 2014 champion Royals, including a rare mid-series offday (Tuesday). Oakland claimed the season series 6-1 a year ago, including a four-game sweep in their last trip to Kauffman Stadium. Following Hahn’s first start since Aug. 9 the A’s will return to the friendly confines of the Oakland Coliseum to host Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and the Houston Astros (4-3) for three.


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