OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics began Friday by placing their top slugger, Khris Davis, on the injured list, but that didn’t stop them from homering their way to their seventh straight victory.
Mark Canha, replacing Davis in the designated hitter spot, launched his sixth long ball in his last nine games, and Matt Olson and Stephen Piscotty added homers of their own to power a 6-2 win over the Seattle Mariners. The victory was Oakland’s first over Seattle this season, in their fifth matchup.
“I’m trying to be Khris Davis right now and this is my best version of it,” Canha said, jokingly.
The homers from Olson and Canha came back-to-back in the fourth inning, off Mariners starter Wade LeBlanc, forging a lead that Oakland never relinquished. Canha now has eight homers this year in just 85 plate appearances, ranking him third on the club in that category despite sparse playing time, and hot on the heels of Davis’ team-leading total of 12. Half of Canha’s hits this season have been homers, and this latest one went 416 feet to left field.
“We’ve seen Mark Canha do this in the past, where he gets an opportunity and he produces and you get him consistent at-bats and he hits home runs,” manager Bob Melvin said before the game. “So if ever there was a guy that we feel really comfortable about replacing [Davis] for a period of time, it would be Mark.”
Canha noted that consistent playing time has helped him find his rhythm and make necessary adjustments, and he also expressed his enjoyment of the DH role that he’s found himself in for the last few games. However, he credits his breakout mostly to the experience he’s gained over the years.
“I’m in my fifth year now, and I think I’m just getting better,” said Canha. “I think I’ve learned a lot in my career, and now I’m being given some time, and I think I’m just getting better as I’ve kind of matured as a hitter in a lot of ways. Just kind of figuring myself out and it’s nice to kind of settle in.”
Olson’s jack was his fifth of the season in just 18 games played, after missing more than a month to a broken hamate bone. The three-run bomb erased an early 1-0 deficit.
“Just had to get my timing back and see some pitches, and I feel like I’m getting to a good spot,” said Olson of his dynamic return to the lineup the last couple weeks. “I broke a bone in my hand; I didn’t get my talent taken from me. I knew it was gonna come around at some point.”
It was also Olson’s third homer against left-handed pitching, after totaling just four against southpaws all of last year in a campaign in which he finished with 29 overall. However, Olson doesn’t think the pitcher’s handedness makes any difference.
“I’m a pretty big advocate that it doesn’t really matter righty or lefty,” said Olson. “I’m just as comfortable facing a lefty as a righty.”
In the eighth inning, Piscotty added a solo shot off reliever Connor Sadzeck to further pad the lead. It was Piscotty’s first in over two weeks, and just his second in his last 26 contests.
Oakland’s power display is nothing new, after the team flexed its muscle on its recent road trip. In those nine games, the A’s blasted 21 homers and averaged 6.6 runs per game, finally looking like the club that ranked third in the majors last season with 227 dingers and fourth in scoring. That resurgence has come after a team-wide slump that saw Oakland go yard just 15 times in 23 games from mid-April until mid-May.
“It’s not a secret that we weren’t playing as good of baseball as we could have played early on, so to get out here and get on a little bit of a roll has been nice, and hopefully something that we can continue throughout the season,” said Olson.
With their three homers on Friday, the A’s now have 75 for the season, placing them ninth in the majors.
While power accounted for most of Oakland’s runs, they did manage one in a completely opposite fashion. With runners on the corners in the seventh inning, Marcus Semien stole second base, and the throw from catcher Omar Narvaez sailed wide and skipped into center field. Ramon Laureano trotted home to score an unearned run on the error.
On the other side of the ball, the A’s pitching was shaky all night but gutted its way through nine innings. Starter Daniel Mengden needed a whopping 99 pitches to make it through four frames, thanks to five hits and five walks, but Seattle only managed to plate one run against him.
“Daniel threw a lot of pitches in four innings,” said Melvin. “It felt like more than one run. At the end of the day he ended up holding them off as far as scoring, but it just felt like a lot of pitches, on edge a little bit. And then when [Olson] hit the home run it kind of loosened things up.”
After Mengden’s departure, four relievers combined to go the final five innings. They allowed eight more baserunners along the way, but only one of them managed to find the plate. Blake Treinen made things interesting in the ninth, loading the bases on a walk, a bloop single, and an infield hit to bring the tying run to the plate, but he escaped the jam to seal the victory.
“The talent level is there,” said Melvin of the A’s bullpen, which leads the majors with 10 blown saves but hasn’t suffered one in nearly two weeks. “You’re gonna have some rough patches, but all these guys are good and they’re pitching to their talent level right now.”
All told, the Mariners left 15 runners on base on the evening, three short of their franchise record set back in 2008.
“That was the key to the game today, is not giving up the big hits when there’s guys out there on bases,” said Melvin. “They made big pitches when they had to, and we wouldn’t have won the game without that.”
The A’s now stand at 26-25 for the season, the first time they’ve been above .500 since they were 14-13 exactly a month ago. They’ll face the Mariners again on Saturday afternoon, with Mike Fiers starting for Oakland and lefty Yusei Kikuchi pitching for Seattle.