OAKLAND — With the Texas Rangers following the Oakland Athletics’ lead and trying an opener, manager Bob Melvin had a counter.
With Texas sending left-handed Jeffrey Springs to the mound to open his second game this season, Melvin moved Nick Martini– just called up from Triple-A Nashville after a CBA-induced delay — down in the lineup. Martini — who hit .058 lower against left-handers than righties in the minors this season– only came to bat once against Springs, and took a dose on the right forearm in the third.
Martini’s next at-bat was against not only a right-hander, but one he’d faced before: Ariel Jurado, who was the bulk guy last time Springs was an opener. With the A’s down 2-1 with two men on and two outs in the fourth. A wild pitch and a Martini infield single later, the A’s took the lead, and went on to win 7-3, sweeping the final series of the year from the Rangers (61-82).
Martini — who had faced Jurado four times (more than any other Oakland hitter) — was one of 10 men that Oakland (87-57) sent to the plate in the fourth. They plated five runs against Jurado, who allowed four hits and three walks before being chased by a Ramon Laureano RBI double off the “3” in the “388” sign atop the 15-foot wall in right center. Jurado only recorded two outs.
“We didn’t make Springs work too hard, and he probably pitched one more inning than we expected,” Melvin said. “Martini got hit by a pitch off of him, but the next at-bat … was huge. It opened the floodgates.”
The five-run outburst got starter Trevor Cahill off the hook after his worst home start of the season. Previously, Cahill had a 1.09 ERA at the Coliseum, but allowed three runs in 2 2/3 frames — the most he’s allowed at home all season — and tied his season high with six walks.
“Just kind of lost the arm slot for a little while, and it was just one of those days for him,” Melvin said. “I don’t think the stuff was bad. The command of it was not so good.”
Cahill got out of a no-out, bases-loaded, 19-pitch first inning only allowing a run thanks to an alert play by second baseman Franklin Barreto. After walking the first three men of the inning, and giving up a sacrifice fly to Nomar Mazara, Cahill threw a first-pitch strike to Adrian Beltre. Catcher Josh Phegley back picked Rougned Odor, and first baseman Matt Olson threw to Barreto to get Odor in a rundown. As Shin-Soo Choo trotted to third, Barreto chased Odor back to first, dove and tagged him. After a 52-second replay review, Odor was ruled out. Beltre flied out to end the inning.
“Franklin Barreto’s a really good player, and we didn’t want him sitting around too long without playing,” Melvin said. “He was playing really well at the end of the Triple-A season, and had been swinging the bat really well in batting practice. It was an easy decision with Jed [Lowrie] getting a day off, to play him today, and he responded.”
Cahill was lifted for Shawn Kelley, who got the final out in the third, before the A’s outburst in the fourth. After Piscotty was erased on a Khris Davis fielder’s choice, Matt Olson popped a double to right, putting men on second and third. A wild pitch to Marcus Semien brought home one run, then a Barreto single to right brought home another. Pinch hitter Matt Joyce walked to load the bases for Martini, who took a 1-0 wild pitch to bring home Olson.
“I knew that [Jurado] had a good sinker, and he started me off with a couple offspeed pitches,” Martini said. “I was just trying to see something. I was fortunate on that 3-2 to get something towards the middle.”
Martini then sent a 1-1 shot at Rougned Odor at second, which he bobbled off of his right foot. Odor’s throw to first was way wide, up the line, and hit first base umpire Jerry Meals, bringing two men in to score. Laureano brought home another with his double to right, and the A’s went from being down 3-0 to leading 5-3. They added another run in the fifth on a run-scoring fielder’s choice groundout by Semien.
“We put some really good at-bats together,” Melvin said. “The one you probably don’t focus on is the Joyce at-bat.
Piscotty added to the tally with his career-high 23rd home run of the season — a solo shot off an 0-1 Matt Moore changeup in the seventh — to give the A’s 199 roundtrippers for the season.
“Getting over 20 was huge for me,” Piscotty said. “Everything now is just a bonus.”
Since June 13, Piscotty is third the major leagues in home runs (20), and is hitting .299 (86-for-287) over that span. Piscotty credited working with his former Stanford hitting coach Brock Ungricht — now at the University of San Diego — at midseason to return to a better opposite-field approach.
With the luxury of a deeper bench thanks to roster expansion in September, Melvin was able to burn the likes of Joyce and even Martini, subbing him out for Chad Pinder in the sixth. Pinder promptly singled to right with one out. He also changed catchers midstream, subbing Jonathan Lucroy for Joyce after he pinch hit for Josh Phegley.
Once again, because of roster expansion, the A’s used their bullpen liberally. Following up an eight-pitcher Saturday in which starter Edwin Jackson couldn’t get out of the fourth, the A’s used eight again on Sunday, with closer Blake Treinen throwing for the third time in three days to secure the sweep.
“Going into an off day, you go into these stretches where your bullpen guys — we used eight more bullpen guys today to cover a game, but we’re running some guys out there,” Melvin said. “That was the second time this year [where Treinen pitched] three times in a row. You get a little uncomfortable with that. When you get a chance to nail down a series to get a sweep with an off day the next day, you go ahead and do it.”
The addition of Frankie Montas — who has already joined the team, and will be activated on the off day Monday or before the Tuesday opener in Baltimore — will help the A’s to alleviate some of the heavy use of the bullpen.
Melvin said that he will be used, though whether as a starter, reliever or second man in an opener situation has yet to be determined. Just before the Sept. 1 expansion of rosters, the A’s had just four true starters on the roster. “Not even that,” Melvin said, referring to the fact that Daniel Mengden had not started a game since he returned from the minors, but was instead used for long relief.
“You have so much depth where they can cover a game like that and pick a starter up like they’ve done all year, the combination, with our offense and those guys helping us out, I think it’s why we’re 30 games over .500,” Cahill said.
Since being swept at Colorado during a June 27-29 set, the A’s are 26-11, and have lost just one series, winning 11 of 13. Mike Fiers will start Tuesday against the Orioles, and Brett Anderson — who felt good after a 45-pitch, three-inning simulated game on Saturday — will pitch at some point on the six-game road trip. Melvin was not sure exactly when, but the A’s have an opening on Wednesday. Brett Anderson, recovering from ulnar nerve irritation, will start on Thursday.