Montas blows through D’Backs, A’s claim series

The Diamondbacks arrived at the Oakland Coliseum Friday towing one of baseball’s worst offenses. But an Arizona lineup that came in batting .213 and averaging 3.7 runs per game threatened the Athletics with an abrupt awakening, tallying 12 hits and seven runs on game one of a three-game weekend series.

That threat turned out to be woof tickets as the D’Backs (26-26) could muster just five hits and one run the rest of the way dropping Sunday’s rubber match 2-1.

Frankie Montas, recalled from Triple-A Nashville before the game, did his best to match Daniel Mengden‘s Saturday gem, holding Arizona hitless into the sixth. He departed with three hits and one run allowed in six innings to claim the second win of his career, first as a starter, and a series victory.

This story has been pdated with quotes and post-game material from the A’s clubhouse at the Oakland Coliseum.

The A’s (28-25) scored just six runs in the series, and five in their two wins. But the pitching made the limited offense stand up. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy said:

“We played good defense, and we pitched well. As long as you’re doing those two things, even when you’re not hitting, you’ve got a chance to win.”

Montas (W, 1-0, 1.50 ERA) came in with all the gas the league has marveled at since he was a 17-year-old Red Sox prospect in 2010. Thirteen of the 12 pitches he threw in the first were fastballs, each of which 96 miles per hour or above. The one slider he threw finished off Arizona leadoff man David Peralta to end a six-pitch strikeout.

As good as his fastball was, his slider, though used sparingly, was enough to not only fool the D’Backs but also keep them from catching up to the heater. Manager Bob Melvin said:

“We’ve been waiting for that. Strikes right away. Fastball velo is always going to be there for him. … And then his off-speed stuff, mixed in enough to keep them off-balance and make his fastball play that much better.”

Lucroy added:

“He had a really good sinker today. Obviously, throwing 97-mile per hour sinkers is pretty good — nasty. … Primarily, we stuck with his fastball a lot because its a good pitch, it’s a big pitch.”

Montas continued blowing the D’Backs away through the third, setting them down in order one time through the lineup with five strikeouts — finishing with seven — but suffered a bit of a setback in the fourth giving Arizona its first two base runners, both on walks. He escaped that jam, though, getting a groundout from Ketel Marte to end the threat.

He said that while the fastball has always big his go-to pitch it is the command of it that he has had to work on. The burly right-hander entered Sunday’s tilt having walked 29 batters in his 47 career big league innings. He walked just the two, saying through translator Juan Dorado:

“Everything was working for me. I thought fastball command was really big for me today. … When I walked those two batters, I didn’t panic I kept trying to execute my gameplan, trying to get ahead of batters.”

In what appeared to be a concession to Montas’ overpowering fastball, speedy center fielder Jarrod Dyson attempted to break up the no-hit bid with two down in the fifth, dragging a bunt. But the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Montas showed kitty cat-like agility bouncing off the mound to field the roller halfway between him and first base for the out.

The no-hitter didn’t last another hitter, however, as Jeff Mathis flipped a soft liner into center field for Arizona’s first hit of the afternoon to lead off the sixth. And Montas had to battle to survive that challenge.

Peralta legged out the back end of a double play — only after a replay review of 43 seconds overturned an out call on the field — and Paul Goldschmidt, who recorded his first two-hit game in a month Friday, collected his third hit of the series with a liner to left. With an empty bullpen behind him, Montas gave up just one run with Peralta scampering home on a sacrifice fly by Jake Lamb.

Montas, the ninth Athletics pitcher to make a start this season, departed the fray having thrown 82 pitches (55 strikes) in a 1-1 tie.

The Oakland offense, which had scored all four of its runs in the series prior to Sunday on solo homers, got one more from Lucroy. It was Lucroy’s first homer in his 140th at-bat — in his nine-year career he has averaged 15 per every 162 games played.

The A’s catcher was likely marked as a hot spot in the Oakland order by D’Backs starter Zack Greinke. Lucroy entered the game having gone 7-for-11 (.636) in his career versus Greinke (L, 3-4 3.65 ERA), though none of the hits had been for homers, and had caught the former Brewers ace 35 times, the third-most of any catcher in Greinke’s 433-game career.

Lucroy said Greinke, a “pretty good friend” of his, hates when he is in the opposing lineup, adding:

“It’s nice to finally get one. I got a pretty good swing off and hopefully my swing will start coming around a little more and we can start doing some more damage.”

Lucroy’s homer gave Montas a lead in the third, but it was the A’s first manufactured run of the series that gave him the decision.

After striking out the first two batters he faced in the sixth, Greinke walked Matt Olson and Chad Pinder back to back. Matt Chapman, who ended a six-game home hitless streak and 0-for-17 home stand with a single in the second, delivered the knockout blow with his second hit of the afternoon scoring the winning run.

The skipper said:

“You can’t rely on the homer all the time, especially against really good pitching. You need to be able to find ways to scratch out some runs.”

With the rare six-inning start, Melvin was able to employ his go-to gameplan, getting a perfect seventh and eighth from Yusmeiro Petit and Lou Trivino respectively before calling on Blake Treinen (S, 12, 1.04 ERA) to end it with a perfect ninth. The three-headed relief unit struck out four.

On Deck

The A’s welcome the Tampa Bay Rays (25-26) of the AL East, a division against which Oakland has won eight of 12 games this season, for a four-game set starting Monday. Chris Archer (3-3, 4.68 ERA) is scheduled to make the start Monday, but manager Kevin Cash is the architect behind the opener phenomenon — starting a reliever to get the first three to six outs — so bullpener Sergio Romo could see a starting assignment at some point during the series.. Trevor Cahill (1-2, 2.75 ERA), who is 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA (two earned runs in 20 innings) at home this season, will toe the runner for the A’s.

Notes

Paul Blackburn (right forearm), who has been on the disabled list since Spring Training, threw four innings in an extended Spring Training game Saturday. He is expected to make a rehab start with Single-A Stockton next. … Khris Davis (right groin strain) took batting practice on the field prior to Sunday’s game. Davis, the team leader in home runs (13), has been out since May 20. … In order to clear a roster spot for Sunday starter Frankie Montas, the A’s optioned right-hander Chris Bassitt to Triple-A Nashville. Bassitt was recalled Saturday and has now spent seven days on the big league roster this season without appearing in a game. He has not pitched for the A’s since April 28, 2016 when he suffered a ulnar collateral ligament tear requiring Tommy John surgery.


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.