Stephen Piscotty stayed as hot as an Independence Day firecracker Sunday, finishing the first half on a nine-game hitting streak and with an .837 slugging percentage in 11 games since July 4.
By the time the Oakland right fielder hit his 12th home run of the season, though, the Athletics (55-42) had already seized control of Sunday’s rubber match behind a strong start from Sean Manaea and a blitz of four straight hits — one an RBI single by Piscotty — and four runs in the fourth.
The fourth-inning foursome accounted for all the offense surrendered by San Francisco starter Andrew Suarez over five innings, but the result was a 6-2 victory for the A’s, who finish the first half taking two of the first three from the Giants (50-48) at AT&T Park.
PIscotty said that his recent production is the product of him just keeping it simple in the box, looking for line drives:
“I’m really trying to focus on that line drive, and when I catch it just under those balls are starting to go. That’s me as a hitter, I’m really happy to be back there again, playing my game.”
Manager Bob Melvin said that his hot bat could be more a matter of relaxing, bringing up the May 6 death of Piscotty’s mother Gretchen and the emotional toll it took on the right fielder:
“He’s just getting back to the player that he is. … It just looks like he’s got a lot of energy right now, and you understand what he was going through for a long period of time. Now he’s just playing baseball, and he’s got a nice little angel sitting there with him, too. He’s playing as good as anybody we have on our team at this point.”
Before Piscotty could get the Oakland offense jump-started, in response to a second-inning RBI single by Gorkys Hernández, Mark Canha needed to break the seal on Suarez (L, 3-6, 3.94 ERA) who hadn’t allowed a hit through three innings.
Canha, the recipient of the first of two free passes issued by Suarez, did just that poking a single past the diving Chase d’Arnaud immediately following a Jed Lowrie one-out walk. Piscotty’s soft liner to right-center field was his 19th hit this season with runners in scoring position, tying him with Canha for fourth-most on the club. He was unable to add to his total in the eighth, grounding instead into an inning-ending double play, but added to his solid first half with a solo homer (12) in the sixth.
He added that as the A’s move forward and continue their hunt for October baseball, knowing that they are able to put together rallies via opposite-field singles and aggressive base running will breed confidence should the home run ball ever run dry.
Jonathan Lucroy, mired in what had been 1-for-22 (.045) funk before the game, put emphasis on the inning with a sacrifice fly, then added to his productive day with an eighth-inning RBI single. And his battery mate made it stand.
Manaea (W, 9-6, 3.42 ERA) continued his rebound from a horrid May, finishing the first-half with a 4-0 record and 3.25 ERA over his last six starts. The lefty capped that surge flipping six innings of five-hit, two-run ball at the Giants.
The 26-year-old ace said he was happy with his first-half performance:
“I thought it was great. Obviously, the month of May was whatever, but overall I thought I made some really good strides in developing as a pitcher.”
With his velocity around 90 much of the afternoon, however, Manaea struck out just one Giants hitter and has not sat down more than four since June 22.
Melvin said that the dip in strikeout totals is proof of Manaea’s maturation as a pitcher, saying that he’ll take early-count outs every day:
“He’s pitching differently now. The innings are mounting so he’s figuring out a different way to do it. … He’s deceptive; he’s able to get strikeouts, but I kinda like the way he’s doing it right now.”
While he was able to stay off the barrel for much of the afternoon, Manaea left one of his 90-mph fastballs over the plate to d’Arnaud resulting in a solo shot (2) to lead off the sixth. But that was all for the San Francisco offense.
The question now becomes, does the All-Star break do to Piscotty and the A’s what no team has been able to over the past month: does it cool them off.
While Blake Treinen, Jed Lowrie and Brandon Crawford head to Washington, D.C., where they will take part int he 89th annual MLB All-Star Game, the rest of the A’s and Giants will take the next will get a four-day break. The same two clubs will meet again, this time in Oakland, when the Bay Bridge Series brings baseball back to the Bay Friday. Oakland manager Bob Melvin tentatively named Edwin Jackson (1-1, 2.59 ERA) the A’s starter for Friday’s game. Jackson suffered his first loss of the season in San Francisco Friday, giving up two runs in six innings of work.
Matt Joyce (lumbar strain), currently on the 10-day disabled list nursing lower back pain for the second time this season, received an epidural shot to relieve the pain and, according to manager Bob Melvin, is feeling “pretty good” for the first time since landing on the DL one week ago. There is no timetable for his return but Melvin is hopeful Joyce (.203/.311/.359) has “turned a corner” in his recovery. … Daniel Gossett (right elbow flexor strain) extended his flat-ground throwing program out to 90 feet, Melvin said. Gossett (0-3, 5.18 ERA) has not appeared in a big league game since June 3. There is no timetable for his return. … Giants starter Jeff Samardzija (1-5, 6.25 ERA) was placed on the 10-day DL Sunday with right shoulder discomfort. Samardzija, who is making his third visit to the DL, lasted just four innings Saturday night.