With the AL Wild Card Game locked up, the A’s attention is on beating the Yankees on Wednesday, though they still have a regular season series to wrap up in Anaheim.
In a 5-2 win over the Angels on Saturday, the goal seemed less about the result and more about experimenting with pitching, giving regulars some rest and tuning up relievers for Yankee Stadium.
Saturday featured a smoother transition.
Trevor Cahill (W, 7-4, 3.46 ERA) followed Liam Hendricks’ 1-2-3 first inning with four strong frames, allowing a hit and no earned runs as the A’s were powered offensively with home runs by Khris Davis and Jed Lowrie in the season’s penultimate game.
The strategy will be put to test should manager Bob Melvin choose to start the Wild Card Game with a reliever. If he does, he has options. Trivino needed only 11 pitches on Friday. Hendricks worked around a one-out single with a 15-pitch first inning on Saturday, and he has not allowed a run in his last 10 outings.
This was the eighth time that Hendricks has opened a game, his third time on the road. He said:
“I like its consistency for me. I’ve had a consistent chance to pitch, which is awesome for me. It’s always fun to be on the beginning end of something.”
Melvin demurred when asked if Hendricks could start Wednesday’s game, but said the veteran has done well in that spot:
“It’s the one consistency in how we’re doing it. We’re trying to get the other starters acclimated to that. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been fairly easy for him.”
Hendricks said he would be ready for the bright lights of New York:
“I didn’t even come here today thinking I was going to do it. It’s another game. Game’s the same. There’s going to be a lot more eyes, but other than that, it’s just the same game, same strike zone, same everything else.”
But the opener is only the first piece. The “starter” is still burdened with a majority of the innings, and the A’s will need a performance on Wednesday’s like Cahill’s. He retired his first 10 batters, and his only blemish was an unearned run in the fifth after Andrelton Simmons reached on a Matt Chapman throwing error and came around to score later in the inning.
“We’re going out there, trying to win a game. We’re all thinking about New York, but we’re still trying to pitch well and work on some things.”
Chapman, along with catcher Josh Phegley and second baseman Jed Lowrie, departed in the middle of the game for rest.
And then the final piece: the late-game relievers. Three of them had postseason tune-ups on Saturday in the order the A’s hope to use them on Wednesday with a lead — Fernando Rodney in the seventh, Jeurys Familia in the eighth and Blake Treinen in the ninth. Rodney, with a three-run lead in the seventh, allowed a single and three walks to force in a run but got Mike Trout to fly out with the bases loaded to end the inning. Both Familia and Treinen pitched scoreless innings.
Davis’ 48th home run in the first inning, a two-run shot, extended his major league lead and continued his torrid second half. His 27 home runs since the All-Star Break also leads the majors and is most in A’s history.
Lowrie is one RBI away from 100 on the season. He had two on Saturday: the first a sacrifice fly in the third and the second a solo homer in the sixth that put the A’s ahead 4-1. Lowrie’s 23 home runs and 99 RBIs are both career highs.
Melvin said he is trying to weigh giving his regulars rest with milestones that they are on the verge of accomplishing:
“That’s the balance right now. We want to some guys some rest. Get some other guys some at-bats too. We also want to potentially take care of milestones.”
Cahill has pitched five innings or fewer in each of his last five starts … Chapman scored his 100th run of the season and became the fourth player in A’s history to record 100-plus runs, 40-plus doubles and 20-plus home runs in a season … Sean Manaea, out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery, told reporters before the game that he pitched with the injury all season. He will be traveling with the team to New York for the Wild Card Game.