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Offense explodes, ‘pen holds the line as A’s tighten AL West

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Oakland Athletics right fielder Stephen Piscotty (25) connects for a home run in the first inning as the Seattle Mariners face the Oakland Athletics at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, August 31, 2018.

One day after going AWOL with just one run on four hits in a series-opening loss, the Oakland offense showed up in a big way scoring five loud runs in the first Friday night.

In total the Athletics would put 13 hits on the board, six of them good for extra bases, in a seven-run outburst good enough for their highest total in a week. And the final two runs were made necessary by a Mariners team unwilling to fold up shop down big early, erasing the deficit as quickly as it appeared and knocking Oakland starter Mike Fiers out in the fourth.

But Seattle (75-60), like many teams this season, was unable to solve the bullpen riddle the A’s (81-55) have developed leading to a 7-5 Oakland victory.

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

Matt Chapman, who opened the A’s scoring with a solo homer (22), said that the early offense and reclaiming the game lost to Seattle one day earlier was big in showing their opponents the fight his young team possesses:

“Yesterday, we came off a really big series in Houston and a long road trip where we were battling every game. … I feel like our whole team bounced back really well today and that kinda shows our character.”

For Chapman, Friday brought an end to a historic month, one that saw him collect 22 extra-base hits — tying Bob Johnson (1938) for a franchise high in August — and bat .319 (36-for-113) with nine home runs and 18 RBIs. Extra-base hit No. 22 came in the third when he sent a laser into the right field corner.

Chapman entered August slashing .269/.364/.479, he leaves it with a .282/.364/.530 line. Manager Bob Melvin credited his improvement to the youngster’s improved plate discipline.

Melvin said following the game that the biggest difference between Chapman of a month ago and now is the ability to hold off on the outside pitch, particularly the slider drawing away from the zone. Chapman concurred, saying that he is working toward consistency in taking pitches, even those that appear hitable:

“Pitch selection is a huge part of it — laying off those tough pitches and really hunting your pitch. I think that’s what’s led to my success. … When I was going bad I would be chasing and flipping counts on myself.”

Chapman had a game high six total bases and Matt Olson, who admitted that this season has been a bit of a struggle for him, paced both teams with three hits, including an RBI double in the A’s five-run first. Also in the rally was long ball No. 19 on the year for Stephen Piscotty.

Olson, Chapman and company didn’t halt the attack there, though, and after tagging him with 11 hits and six runs in 4-1/3 Oakland finally chased Mariners starter Mike Leake (L, 8-9, 4.25 ERA) who dropped eight scoreless frames on the A’s just 16 days ago, Said Olson:

“I think we did a better job of staying off his pitches tonight. He’s a guy that, if you expand the zone, he’ll get you to make soft contact. … We did a good job of shrinking the zone and driving balls.”

Leake, however, outperformed his opposite number. Handed a huge early lead, Fiers (ND, 10-6, 3.38 ERA) laid his first egg as a member of the Athletics.

Lasting just 3-2/3 innings, Fiers was saddled with five runs on seven hits, including homers by  Robinson Canó (6), Nelson Cruz (33) and Ryon Healy (24). Entering the game, the post-deadline acquisition had pitched into the sixth inning of each of his four starts with Oakland, never allowing more than two runs. He said he got caught leaving his changeup up in the zone, and the Mariners hit it:

“I went to my third- or fourth-best pitch (the changeup) in a spot where I need to keep the ball in the ballpark. With a big lead I definitely didn’t want to walk them … but I’ve got to get the ball down more. Balls were up and they took advantage of it.”

Melvin said his starter was “flat” but that he tried to get as much out of him as possible with his overly taxed bullpen needing rest. It was finally deemed long enough after Seattle erased the A’s early advantage in the fourth and Melvin went to his relief corps. Said Fiers:

“I want to be out there as long as possible but these guys have got some nasty stuff. They just take they ball and they run with, they make it really hard on that other team.”

Yusmeiro Petit (W, 6-3, 3.31 ERA) was the first man out of the ‘pen, working 1-1/3 hitless. The four-headed monster of Lou Trivino (H, 19, 2.22 ERA), Fernando Rodney (H, 3, 2.47 ERA), Jeurys Familia (H, 5, 2.82 ERA) and Blake Treinen (S, 34, 0.94 ERA) followed holding Seattle to two hits on 5-1/3 frames of scoreless relief. Melvin continues to be amazed by his dominant group of bullpen arms, especially on a night when both offense were clicking:

“Not only did they have to cover a bunch of the game today, it felt like one of those games where there’s going to be runs scored for a while — both sides. … It had the feel of one of those games and once the bullpen came in they just shut them down. Our bullpen’s impressive, I thought ever more so tonight.”

Behind the big offensive night and another overpowering performance by the A’s bullpen, Oakland pulled back to within 1-1/2 games of the division lead and the Astros who were shutout 3-0 by the Angels. The A’s also put the game lost Thursday night back on to their lead over the Mariners for the second Wild Card spot. While they remain focused on chasing down Houston, Chapman said a secondary objective is putting space between Oakland and Seattle:

“They’re still in reach, obviously, with a lot of baseball left so to win a game like that against a team like that is huge. We want to distance out self as much as we can.”

On Deck

Daniel Mengden (6-6, 4.28 ERA) will take the ball Saturday, making his first big league start in 10 weeks. After going 4-1 with a 2.98 ERA with Triple-A Nashville during his hiatus, Mengden returned to the mound for the A’s Monday firing four scoreless innings of relief work in Houston. He will face James Paxton (10-5, 3.68 ERA), who Seattle expects to reactivate from the disabled list before the game. Paxton has been on the DL since Aug. 14 when he was hit with a batted ball by Jed Lowrie.

Notes

As manager Bob Melvin hinted at prior to Thursday’s game, outfielder Dustin Fowler was recalled before play Friday. Fowler last appeared in a game with the A’s on July 30 before he was optioned to Triple-A Nashville after having seen his average drop 21 points (.252 to .231) during the month. In 25 games with the Sounds, Fowler batter .379 (39-for-103) with one homer, 11 RBIs, five stolen bases and 19 runs scored. Frankie Montas, who starter Thursday’s game, was optioned to Nashville to clear room on the active roster for Fowler. … The A’s announced the acquisition of reliever Cory Gearrin from the Rangers Friday. In 56 games this season between the Rangers and Giants, Gearrin carries a 3.51 ERA and 1.266 WHIP having struck out 64 and walked 35 in 51-1/3 innings. In exchange for the right-hander, the A’s sent minor league pitchers Abdiel Mendoza, 19, and Teodoro Ortega, 18, to Texas. Mendoza spent this season with Low-A Vermont, going 2-3 with a 3.32 ERA, while Ortega went 3-1 with a 2.11 ERA in the Dominican Summer League. … The A’s tweeted Friday their newest addition to the Oakland Coliseum, called “HappyOrNot” terminals. On these terminals, of which there are 20 throughout the stadium, fans can provide real-time ratings of their experiences at concession stands, entries, bathrooms and more through the month of September.


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.

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