OAKLAND — Between his 2009 debut in Oakland and the time he was signed as a minor league free agent by the club on March 20 of this year, left-handed pitcher Brett Anderson has played for five teams, gone on the disabled list six times, and had three surgeries — two on his back and a Tommy John operation.
He doesn’t have his 95-mph fastball anymore. If he still tried to throw that, he said, he’d be on the couch at home without a big league job. Instead, Anderson, 30, has become a true four-pitch pitcher.
“If I tried to throw 95, I’d be at home, because it’s not coming out,” he said. “It’s the evolution of being injured and getting older. Adapt or die.”
After struggling to find a rhythm — and going on the disabled list for a month — after his return to the Oakland Coliseum, Anderson has indeed adapted, limiting opponents to just two runs over his last four starts. On Tuesday, with Khris Davis driving in three runs to MVP chants behind him, Anderson allowed just one hit and one walk over seven innings, as the A’s blanked the Texas Rangers 6-0.
“He’s getting comfortable,” said manager Bob Melvin. “He’s got a routine. It’s been a while since he’s had this type of routine. Knock wood, he’s been healthy, too. You just fall into this confidence that you insulate within your routine. His bullpens have been good. He’s just rolling and feeling good about himself.”
In four years with Oakland during his first go-around, Anderson posted a 3.81 ERA in 450 2/3 innings, winning 26 games from 2009-13. After stops in Los Angeles and Colorado, Anderson posted a 6.34 ERA between Chicago and Toronto in 2017.
He signed with the A’s late in the offseason — just nine days before Opening Day — and didn’t make it back to Oakland (76-50) until May. When he did, he went 0-2 with a 7.63 ERA. Then he missed all of June with shoulder stiffness. After a 2-1 July during which he posted a 3.98 ERA, Anderson finally found a groove. He has run off a 16 scoreless innings in a row and has a 0.68 ERA over his last four starts, including Tuesday.
Against the Rangers — who had averaged 6.44 runs per game in the month of August — Anderson threw two-strike breaking balls and relied heavily on his offspeed pitches. He also got weak contact — no ball left the bat at faster than 95 mph off of Anderson, and only three of the 15 balls put in play against him came off the bat faster than 89 mph.
On Tuesday, Anderson threw 93 pitches and faced one batter over the minimum — thanks to a pair of third-inning comebackers — and retired the last 12 men he faced and striking out six. Over his last four starts, Anderson now has a 0.68 ERA, allowing just two earned runs in 26 2/3 innings.
Anderson got early support, when Jed Lowrie drove in a run with a single in the first, and he got even more from Davis, who continued his torrid pace since the All-Star break. After slugging his 37th homer of the year off the luxury suite glass on Monday, Davis started a bit more humbly against Texas (56-72), fouling off four balls with two outs in the fifth before punching an RBI single up the middle. Matt Chapman — who doubled with two outs in the frame — rode home as Davis’s 100th RBI of the season.
In the sixth, after a double by Marcus Semien and a single and stolen base by Ramón Laureano, Davis launched his 38th homer of the season, going the other way with a 95-mph fastball off of reliever Matt Moore. Davis is now two home runs away from his third straight 40-homer season, and has hit 123 dingers during the last three years. He’s also driven in 100 runs for his third straight season with the A’s.
Since the All-Star break, Davis is hitting .304 with a big league-leading 17 home runs and 38 RBIs in 28 games. That homer elicited MVP chants from the crowd.
“Why wouldn’t you?” Melvin said. “I’ve been hearing some talk on some national broadcasts about MVPs, and his name’s not even brought up. How can you not? What is he? Second in the league in RBIs, second in homers? It’s ridiculous that he’s not part of that conversation.”
The pitchers are another matter. Since July 30, the veteran quartet Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill, Mike Fiers and Anderson have made 15 starts for the A’s. In 93 innings, they have a collective 1.26 ERA, averaging just over six innings per start.
“We (the starting pitchers) try to stay under the radar,” Anderson said. “We just go and give us a chance to win. The bullpen’s always our strength, but with 20 straight games, we have to do our part and get us deep into ballgames.”
Including Anderson’s outing, Oakland starters have a 3.01 ERA since the All-Star break. Tuesday marked the first time in Oakland history that A’s starting pitchers have back-to-back games of seven innings or more and one hit or fewer. They’ve now done it three times in the last four games.
“Those things kind of get contagious,” Melvin said. ” … The numbers are absolutely fantastic. We have this bullpen we put together in order to shorten games, and all our starters are doing is going out there and not allowing the bullpen guys to pitch.”