Inside Pitch: Hot Healy, offense carry A’s to 5-2 week
Following a five-game win streak, the Oakland Athletics pushed into the plus side of the ledger for the first time in nearly a year.
The A’s (10-9) responded to a four-game losing streak — ending with a loss to the Texas Rangers Monday — by running off five straight wins. The stretch matched (May 28 to June 1, 2016) the longest winning streak for the club since mid-April last year, and put Oakland above the .500 mark for the first time since later that same month.
Obviously, in a week stuffed full of winning, the positives were abundant. But there were negatives, which, in the grand scheme of things, is a good sign of things to come.
Fastball: Sluggin’ A’s
Despite scoring a combined one run in losses to begin and end the week, the Oakland offense mashed its way to a 30-run week — 4.3 runs per game — and a 5-2 record.
A .252 team average isn’t especially staggering — seventh-highest in the American League for the week — but the A’s maximized the output from the 53-for-201 clip. How? extra-base hits.
The green and gold swung 24 extra-base hits (fourth-most, AL) — 15 doubles (T-2) and nine home runs (T-6). And it was a team effort. Seven different A’s collected more than one. Couple the gap power with an influx of patience (22 walks) and a league-leading six sacrifices, including four sac flies (No. 1), and you get a much improved offense. An offense that scored 29 runs in during a five-game mid-week winning streak.
For the season, Oakland is now tied with Tampa Bay for the AL lead in total extra-base hits (61) giving them the junior circuit’s third-best slugging percentage (.423).
Changeup: You can’t spell Ryon without an ‘O’
Ryon Healy entered the week in the midst of his worst scuffle since being called up last July. The second-year slugger was batting a weak .170 with more strikeouts (15) than hits (8) in his first 47 at-bats.
Manager Bob Melvin chose to give Healy back-to-back starts off to begin the week. The 25-year-old rewarded his skipper’s decision, first by coming up with pinch-hits in each game then continuing the sizzle through the week. Healy finished with a team-best .524 average (11-for-21), leading his team in extra-base hits (5) and RBIs (6). He also led all qualified American Leaguers in average, on-base percentage (.565) and on-base plus slugging (1.422).
Perhaps more impressive than everything he put in play, Healy walked as many times as he struck out — twice.
While the offensive outburst of the season’s third week was a group effort Healy pulled more than his own weight, filling the gap created by the absences of Marcus Semien (right wrist) and Rajai Davis (left hamstring) and the struggles of Khris Davis (2-for-16).
With his performance, Healy proved that, at his best, he can carry a big league ball club — the ultimate quantifier for a middle-of-the-lineup stud.
Curveball: Hahn hunts Rangers
Jesse Hahn had an atrocious spring. After teeing up 25 hits and 17 runs in 15-1/3 innings in Cactus League play the 27-year-old was left off the Opening Day roster, and for good reason.
Out of necessity — injuries to Sonny Gray and Kendall Graveman, Daniel Mengden and John Axford — Hahn was called upon to help out of the big league bullpen. After tossing 6 innings of two-run relief against the Rangers in Texas, Hahn seized the rotation spot of Raul Alcantara.
Since doing so, the big righty has been fantastic, positing back-to-back quality starts. Surprising, though, was what he was able to do to a formidable Ranger team that had just faced him 12 days prior.
Hahn dazzled the AL West foes, flipping 6 innings of one-run dominance slowed only by his occasional bouts of wildness (four walks). He held the big Texas offense to two hits in his best start since July 24, 2016.
On a staff starved for consistency, having Hahn for a dependable six every fifth day offers an anchor for an otherwise very young rotation. And that was far from expectations when he was called up April 5.
As a team, the A’s showed no true weakness. Sure, they struck out 155 times but, alas, it did little to slow the “O.” And they left 35 runners on base, But their .268 average (11-for-41) in scoring position would be good enough for fifth-highest in the AL for the season to this point, showing that the number of runners stranded were more a product of high capacity than insufficiency.
With no true team weakness this week, we honor the improbable run of Andrew Triggs, who set an Oakland franchise record for a starting pitcher, lasting 18 innings before allowing his first earned run. Triggs relies heavily on his cutter.
That being said, Alcantara, who is without a minor league option, may not be in the green and gold much longer.
Alcantara lost his spot in the rotation after just one star, in which he gave up four hits and eight runs in 2 innings. He got back on the hill for the first time in nine days Sunday, and it didn’t go much better. The Seattle Mariners dropped a five spot on the 24-year-old who gave up another five hits in just 3 innings.
He now carries a 16.71 ERA and 2.143 WHIP.
Oakland has high hopes for the Dominican right-hander, which is why they didn’t test the waiver wire after his less-than-impressive spring. But now he has become a liability, and someone Melvin can not use in high-leverage situations (what he calls “plus situations”).
With both Gray and Graveman both quickly approaching returns — Graveman as early as Thursday and Gray perhaps a week or so later — Alcantara’s days in the big leagues (at least in the present) are likely numbered.
Slider: No Joy(ce)
While nearly all other Oakland hitters were busy extinguishing their flaming bats, Matt Joyce stumbled.
The outfielder went 2-for-15 and was the only Athletic to spend the entire week in Oakland and not record a single extra-base hit, and joined Stephen Vogt as the only two who didn’t score a run.
He did, however, draw to of the A’s 22 walks and tabbed one of its four sac flies.
Joyce has had just one season in which he qualified as an everyday player — his All-Star season of 2011 — so early season struggles can be expected. His career on-base percentage of .340 (in 10 seasons) says he will rebound from the rough week. And if a guy expected to produce is going to have a down week, there is no better choice than a week when the rest of the lineup is rolling.
The A’s continue and finish their early tour of the AL West. Following three games against the Angels in Anaheim the green and gold take their first trip of the season to Houston where the division-leading Astros await. They then round out their longest road trip of the season with three at the Minnesota Twins.