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Oakland Athletics Recap: Jonathan Lucroy breaks out as Athletics sweep Blue Jays

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Oakland Athletics catcher Jonathan Lucroy looks to the dugout for a sign against the Giants at AT&T Park on Friday, July 13, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

OAKLAND — Oakland A’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy was on edge Tuesday night after starting behind the plate in a 6-2 win against the Toronto Blue Jays. He wanted to play again, and he knew manager Bob Melvin would try to rest him for Wednesday’s series finale.

What happened next is up for debate.

Melvin said Lucroy begged him to be in the lineup. Lucroy said he demanded it. Either way, he started and went 3-for-4 with four RBIs, lifting Oakland to an 8-3 win that sealed a sweep of the Blue Jays.

“Look, we have a chance here to do something,” Lucroy said. “Whenever you have the chance to win, you take full advantage of that chance. I told [Melvin], ‘If we have a chance to win, I want to be in there.’”

The A’s are now tied with the Seattle Mariners for the second AL Wild Card spot. Lucroy’s recent production has helped Oakland chase down Seattle from an eight-game deficit on July 1. He wants to build on his best stretch in recent memory, which means playing regularly.

Before last week, Lucroy had not produced more than four RBIs in a series this year, and his .604 on-base-plus-slugging percentage represented the worst mark of his career. So despite a long track record of hitting success with the Milwaukee Brewers, which included All-Star appearances in 2014 and 2016, Melvin has often deployed Lucroy near the bottom of the order.

But Lucroy, who said his swing hasn’t felt right in two years, now has at least five RBIs in two of the past three series. He drove in seven runs against the Blue Jays (48-59), and his OPS is up to .640. He said he’s becoming used to his spot lower in the lineup, and his swing is starting to feel better.

On Wednesday, Lucroy roped a two-run single down the right field line, drove an RBI double to left and then added an RBI single to right. Melvin believes the outburst could lead to a sustained hot stretch. After all, Lucroy was a better second-half hitter in 2016 and 2017.

“There’s probably a little more there as far as the offense goes,” Melvin said. “It’s important to get some rest, but this is a workhorse. Not only is he doing his job behind the plate, but he’s picking up the pace offensively and driving in some runs too.”

Second baseman Franklin Barreto, batting behind Lucroy, went 3-for-4 with a solo home run and a two-run double on Wednesday. Those bottom-of-the-lineup contributions helped the A’s (64-46) chase Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman after just five innings.

“I’m used to [being] three or four [in the batting order] my whole career,” Lucroy said. “But whenever you have that kind of depth in the lineup, it’s devastating for starting pitchers.”

A’s starter Sean Manaea cruised to his 10th win of the year, striking out five and surrendering just one run over six-plus innings. Manaea hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a start since May 30. That career-long stretch of 10 straight starts has brought his ERA down to 3.38. As the ace of a staff otherwise made up of unheralded veterans, his consistency has been crucial for Oakland over the past couple of months.

Melvin hailed the left-hander’s ability to improve his control after losing some velocity over the past couple of seasons. Late in his Wednesday start, Manaea’s fastball was down to 86 mph. Still, he found success with his combination of a fastball, changeup and slider.

“Each start I try to reflect on what I did well that game and build up those things,” Manaea said. “Over the course of the season things have started to come together.”

Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin hit a two-run home run in the eighth, but reliever Lou Trivino prevented Toronto from creeping any closer.

The A’s are now a major league-best 30-10 since June 16. Their latest triumph marked Melvin’s 601st career victory at the helm, pushing him past former manager Art Howe for second-most on the all-time A’s victories list.

With Lucroy reaching a new gear recently and Manaea following the veteran backstop’s lead from the mound, Melvin’s tally could continue to spike over the final two months of the regular season. At least that’s what the A’s are hoping for as they vie for a playoff berth.

“Since [Lucroy] has been here, he’s pretty much taken charge of everything,” Manaea said. “Having a guy like that who’s well prepared and wants to see this team go somewhere … it’s just awesome. Each day he pushes guys to be their best.”

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