After the dust of 14 runs and six long balls settled, the Athletics improved to 9-1 against the AL Central, knocking off division-leading Minnesota, 8-6, at the Oakland Coliseum Tuesday night.
Daniel Mengden battled into the sixth against baseball’s second-highest-scoring offense and leaned on homers from Matt Olson, Mark Canha and Chris Herrmann to earn the win.
The Twins (53-31), who entered Tuesday’s contest averaging 5.7 runs per game, did the job offensively. But starter Jake Odorizzi couldn’t slow the A’s (47-39) and their power surging offense.
Herrmann was activated prior to the game, following arthroscopic knee surgery during Spring Training. He was signed to a one-year deal last December with hopes that he would become Oakland’s No. 1 catcher. During his absence though, Josh Phegley took advantage, knocking in 42 runs (T-3rd on the club) in 68 games. In his return, Herrmann became the first player to hit a grand slam in his first game with the A’s.
But the night didn’t get off to as good a start for the backstop, who struck out — the 900th of Odorizzi’s career — to strand a pair leaving Miguel Sano’s second-inning two-run homer (13) as the game’s only runs heading into the third.
It didn’t take the seven-year veteran long to recover from the whiff. Down 3-2, thanks to a rally-killing double play started by Matt Chapman and a two-run dinger (17) by Matt Olson in the third, Herrmann gave Oakland’s its first lead of the night launching a 1-1 heater to unload the bases for his second career slam.
The big pitch in the at-bat, Herrmann said, was the 0-1 splitter he saw after waiving at the same pitch to end his at-bat two innings prior:
“Thankfully, my next at-bat, I took it. He came at me with a fastball in the middle and I tried not to do too much. I just wanted to put the ball in play. I didn’t want to go up there and strike out again with a big situation, that’s it.”
Brought in with the hopes of getting significant playing time, Herrmann’s long road to recover finally culminated Tuesday night. He said:
“You feel amazing. It has been a grind. I cant thank my family enough for all the support that I have had over the past three months. There were times where I didn’t even think I was going to play this year. My teammates, the coaching staff have had my back the whole time. The training staff and everybody. So, just to come out here and hit a grand slam on my first game with the team, it is awesome, man. It is such a good feeling.”
Manager Bob Melvin was pleased with the overall performance of his catcher, a performance that also saw him draw a walk.
For Melvin, a former big leaguer catcher himself, it was the things Herrmann did that won’t be printed on a stat sheet or in a box score that caught the eye — notably, catching four pitchers he has had little time to work with without any issue:
“He had to catch several pitchers, which can be tough. First time around, he only had few at-bats in spring training and didn’t really get to see these guys at length, so you get through a game like that, you move most of our plus guys into the game at that point in time and its learning on the fly. He did a really nice job.”
The first pitcher he caught, Mengden (W, 3-1, 4.67 ERA) showed flashes of dominance but couldn’t keep momentum rolling from one inning to the next.
After a perfect first, the Oakland starter allowed a trio of hits in the second, including a pair of extra-base knocks. He got a little aid to cut a Twins rally short in the third and followed with another flawless frame, then served up a Jason Castro homer (9) in the fifth before being knocked out in the sixth.
All told, Mengden was tagged with eight hits and five runs in 5-2/3. He struck out five and did not issue a walk.
“It was key that he could get out there for the 6th, too. (Yusmeiro) Petit has to get out there and do his thing for one-plus, which he has so many times. He is one of the league leaders in appearances now, too. So he continues to perform at a high level and leverage situations and (Joakim) Soria has really been pitching well for us as of late. With (Blake) Trienen out and Lou (Trivino) in a little bit of a different role now, it has been really important for him to fill the void late in games and he has done that. It has been nice to see.”
Petit, Soria and stand-in closer Liam Hendriks (S, 3, 1.35 ERA) combined to go the final 3-1/3 allowing two hits and one run.
With the effort of its bullpen, Oakland didn’t need much wiggle room, and it got more than it needed from Canha and Olson, each of whom shipped in with their own long ball.
Olson’s two-run homer (17) got the A’s offense started in the second off Odorizzi (L, 10-4, 3.15 ERA), and Canha’s solo (12) answered No. 2 on the night from Castro (10) in the seventh to push Oakland’s lead back to two.
Canha has now homered 12 times in 147 at-bats on the season — one every 12.25 at-bats. He also added his 29th walk (in 180 plate appearances) of the season, five shy of his career high (34), set over 411 plate appearances last season.
Melvin said the walks have been just as impressive as the power:
“You give him consistent at-bats, he is going to perform. I think the big difference this year is the walks. Look at the average and that is really not indicative of what he has been doing. He has been getting on base, he hasn’t been expanding the zone and when you throw it over the plate, it’s a homer, and when you don’t its a walk.”
Rallies continue to be few for the Oakland offense, which scored just one run Tuesday by way of means other than the home run. But solid defense, viable starting pitching, strong bullpen work and the longball was the intended recipe the A’s were reading when they cooked up this roster. And it continues to get the job done.
RHP Kyle Gibson will face off Mike Fiers for game two of the three game series. Josh Phegley will catch for Fiers.
Liam Hendricks has not allowed a run in his last 12 games and in his 24 of his 25 relief appearances. … Franklin Barreto was recalled Tuesday and started at second base, going 1-for-4 with a double and a runs scored. Manager Bob Melvin said of his return:
“It was good to see him get a hit right away. That ball is hit off the right-center wall on the line and that is what he can do, he brings a lot of power for a little guy; gives you some speed. He does a lot of things to help you win games and he has been a big prospect for us for a reason and it was good to see him get a double and kinda relax a little bit more so he has been doing a really nice job for us.”