Paul Blackburn has thus far been unable to carry momentum from one start to the next this season. But he found a way to roll through Cleveland from one inning to the next Friday night, despite a laborious first two innings.
The Oakland starter threw 47 pitches, allowing four base runners through the first two innings. But thanks to a dart from Jonathan Lucroy and a nifty double play from Marcus Semien, the Antioch native escaped the second unscathed. Blackburn (W, 2-2, 6.46 ERA) retired 14 of the next fifteen batters he faced — issuing a one-out walk in the fourth — to outduel Trevor Bauer (L, 7-6, 2.45 ERA).
Behind RBIs from Semien and Khris Davis and a 14th homer from Jed Lowrie, Blackburn and the Athletics (45-38) made it one time through the rotation, winning their fifth game in a row, 3-1, over Cleveland (44-36).
After the sluggish start, Blackburn would end up working 6-1/3 surrendering three hits and one walk while striking out a career-high five. He said recovering from the early woes was all about getting into a groove:
“It was just kinda finding that tempo and rhythm, something that I feel like I’ve struggled with. … I feel like everything is more put together and I’m not going step-by-step, it’s more fluid and more athletic.”
All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor started the game chopping a single into right field. But Blackburn got his first bit of relief when Lindor attempted to nab second on the next pitch and was cut down on a throw from Lucroy.
The caught stealing — No. 3 on the season for Lindor and an American League-leading 13th by Lucroy — helped Blackburn get around a two-out hit-by-pitch of José Ramírez, but Cleveland was right back in attack mode in the second, getting back-to-back one-out singles. In a 3-2 count, Cleveland catcher Roberto Pérez was likely looking for a fastball, leaving him out in front of an 86-mph slider.
Semien, shaded up the middle, glided to his left to scoop the Pérez hopper before stepping on second and sending it on to Matt Olson for an inning-ending double play to put out the fire.
Such was the result of all further contact Cleveland could muster with Blackburn on the bump, even with him working a bit of overtime, getting one out in the seventh before handing the ball off to southpaw Ryan Buchter to face back-to-back Cleveland lefties.
Manager Bob Melvin said the turnaround was the product of command, adding that the stuff was similar throughout the game:
“(During the first two innings) it was just a matter of not throwing as many strikes and them fouling some balls off, then all of a sudden from the third on he was real efficient.”
Once settled in, the A’s hurler pounded the inner-half of the zone with a heater that topped out at 91, and baffled front foot-swinging Cleveland hitters with his best change up since being activated from the disabled list June 7, holding a powerful offense to zero hard contact.
The scoreless deadlock ended shortly after Pérez’s threat-ending double play, when Olson beat the shift rolling a double right through the vacated third-base position. One batter later, Semiein flipped an RBI single over Lindor’s head.
Oakland was unable to add on until the sixth, when Davis hammered a first-pitch hanging curveball from Bauer into the left-field corner scoring Matt Joyce, who had singled.
Semien entered the game with just one hit in four career head-to-head at-bats against Bauer, and said his 2-for-3 night against one of the game’s best had everything to do with staying ready for any and everything:
“My hits were off curveballs. He’s a guy that can throw any pitch at any time, so (I’m) just trying to get a strike to hit. Khris Davis also got a curveball, we were just fortunate to get hangers.”
Bauer was finally removed in the seventh after recording back-to-back strikeouts — pushing his game total to eight. With consecutive lefties due up, Cleveland manager Terry Francona went to lefty Oliver Pérez. Melvin responded with pinch-hitters Mark Canha and Chad Pinder.
After calling for the intentional walk of Canha, Francona signaled for righty Zach McAllister, leaving Pérez credited with a walk despite never having thrown a pitch. The strange exchange worked out for Francona and Cleveland when McAllister struck out Pinder.
Melvin laughed about the exchange:
“We’ve done that a few times. I knew he was going to do that.”
McAllister was sent back to the mound for the eighth inning, following an RBI double off the bat of Lindor, and gave right back Cleveland’s first and only run of the night when he grooved an 0-2, 95-mph fastball right down the middle. Lowrie deposited the egregious mistake onto the top of the National League out-of-town scoreboard for the solo dinger.
The Oakland skipper said that with Cleveland’s explosive offense, the homer offered monumental wiggle room:
“In games like that, it feels like a 10-run homer. Their guys that are coming to the plate get your attention in that last inning.”
But like Lowrie, Blake Treinen (S, 21, 0.89 ERA) bolstered his All-Star résumé, striking out one in a scoreless ninth to slam the door.
Edwin Jackson (0-0, 1.50 ERA) makes career start No. 3 at the Oakland Coliseum in Saturday’s matinee. Jackson will pitch in Oakland for the first time as member of the Athletics after a six-inning, six-hit, one-run outing in Detroit Monday. The 34-year-old, 16-year veteran faces 26-year-old rookie Adam Plutko (4-1, 4.65 ERA).
Matt Chapman (left hand) said his recovery to this point is “so far, so good,” according to Eric He of MLB.com. Chapman was placed on the disabled list on June 16 after the pain he has felt in his hand since late last season “flared up.” He received a second cortisone shot in his hand — the first during Spring Training — to alleviate the pain and is expected to take batting practice Sunday. He could be activated as soon as Tuesday. … The A’s improved to 31-0 when leading after seven innings. Closer Blake Treinen said that depth in the bullpen is its greatest strength:
“We have like seven guys down there that can take the ball at any time and have experience in then back-end. It’s a blessing to have that on this team, it makes things really fun to watch.”