Not one time Saturday afternoon did Edwin Jackson pitch out of the stretch.
In an otherwise dominant performance, the Oakland starter suffered a single blip serving up a pair of solo homers in the fourth. But as they have made a habit of lately, the Athletics (46-38) waged a late assault on the scoreboard to snatch a 7-2 victory, their fifth in a row over Cleveland (44-37) dating back to last season.
Rookie starter Adam Plutko (L, 4-2, 4.66 ERA) was matching donuts with Jackson (W, 1-0, 2.13 ERA) early, allowing one hit through five frames, but was overcome an Oakland onslaught that began in the sixth and continued through the eighth.
Matt Olson, who added cushion with a two-run homer (18) in the eighth, said that the A’s recent run of success is a product of doing everything and picking each other up:
“We’ve just played complete games. If the bats aren’t there to start, our pitching has covered us for a little bit. If we struggle pitching one game, our bats come.”
Saturday’s starter did the former.
Jackson, a 16-year veteran, was once again crafty with his gas, which spent much of the afternoon between 90 and 92 miles per hour. But, like he did in Detroit, the 34-year-old turned up the heat from time to time touching 95 on several occasions and going as high as 97 on a swing-through strike three by Yan Gomes to end the fifth.
Josh Phegley, Jackson’s catcher for start No. 2, said it was fun to watch him work:
“I knew it had a little extra on it when we elevated. That’s just the ability he has … when he needs to ramp up with that high fastball he can. That’s impressive.”
Manager Bob Melvin said Jackson’s fastball is like three different pitches:
“He’s always been able to do that a little bit, with the sinker and the four-seamer. Now he just munipulates it a little bit more … it really keeps you off-balance.”
Jackson said that as a young pitcher, back when Phegley was in eighth grade and Melvin was a rookie manager with the Mariners, he was a hard-thrower who didn’t pitch:
“It’s juts pitching. In today’s game, when you’re consistently throwing one pitch that does one thing, with how good these hitters are, it’s hard to get outs. You have to pitch — have a ball going this way, have a ball going that way, have something that you can reach back a little bit and grab something when you want.”
His slider was effective as well, both for getting ahead and finishing at-bat’s. But with his ability to manipulate the fastball, Jackson, for good reason, leaned heavily on the heater, using it 53.5 percent of the time — a fair bit higher than the 45 percent usage in his first outing.
He was also once again in command of everything he threw, posting a zero in the walks-issued column for the second time in as many starts with the A’s, and allowed exit velocities that eclipsed 93 miles per hour just twice — both in the fourth.
The only two base runners Jackson allowed came in quick succession, on solo homer by Francisco Lindor (20) and José Ramírez (24) in that fourth. And that was it from the loud contact from the Cleveland offense.
After the quick hiccup though, he settled right back in. But the way Plutko was working, it appeared the sudden outburst would be enough for the AL Central Division leaders.
Plutko, was perfect through four and like Jackson had danced around solid contact.
Jackson, though, said he knew as long as he could keep his boys in the game it would give them a chance to do what they do best — score:
“With the team that we have you just want to keep coming at ’em and get back into the dugout. Two solo home runs, that’s two runs at the end of the day. You can’t let that get to you with the team that we have, knowing that we can put up runs.”
The solid contact came quick from the A’s in the fifth when Khris Davis banged a 2-2 fastball off the wall in center field — the 108.5 exit velocity bested both the 107.2 by Lindor and 100.1 by Ramírez one inning prior. Alas, the A’s were unable to advance Davis past second, but the double was the beginning of the end for Plutko.
Franklin Barreto started the sixth the same way Davis opened the fifth, doubling off the wall. But this time, Phegley made it matter with a two-run homer (2) one batter later.
Phegley said all he was trying to do was be productive and setup the top of the Oakland order:
“The whole time, I was just thinking ‘hit a groundball, just move the runner.’ … Then I got to two strikes and it was just, try to get the bat on something. Worked out for me.”
In the matter of 13 pitches, Plutko went from his bets performance as a big leaguer to looking more like Rick Vaughn in “Major League 2” snapping his head to and fro watching line drives whistle all over the park.
He was eventually relieved having surrendered five hits and three runs in 5-2/3 innings. A far cry from the two hits and two runs Jackson allowed in his six six-strikeout innings.
Plutko’s effort was much better than that of the Cleveland bullpen, which was tagged for three hits and four runs, including a solo homer (5) by Fowler and a two-run shot (18) from Olson.
Santiago Casilla made things interesting in the ninth, allowing a Michael Brantley single then hitting a batter and walking another necessitating Lou Trivino‘s entry with regular closer Blake Treinen unavailable having already pitched four times this week. But Trivino (S, 3, 1.56 ERA) coaxed a double play from former Athletic Yonder Alonso three pitches after entering a bases-loaded, one-out jam to put out the fire.
Frankie Montas (4-1, 3.68 ERA) gets the ball for Sunday’s series finale coming off his worst start of the season, when he served up eight hits and six runs in three innings of work. Montas is 3-0 this season when he walks fewer than three batters. Cleveland will counter with Mike Clevinger (6-3, 3.03 ERA), who has allowed six earned runs in 26-1/3 innings pitched (2.05 ERA) over his last four starts — he is 2-1 and his team is 2-2 in those games.
The A’s have now won six straight, their longest streak since since winning seven in a row Sept. 17-24 last season. Oakland starters have also allowed two or fewer runs while pitching six or more innings in four straight contests. … The A’s improved to a league-best 32-0 when leading after seven innings. … With an RBI double in the sixth, Mark Canha extended his hitting streak to a career-best nine games.