OAKLAND — It may be a bit earlier in the season, and it wasn’t quite as dramatic, but Oakland Athletics utility man Mark Canha is already in top bat-flipping form.
Last season, after what turned out to be the difference-making home run against the San Francisco Giants in the July Bay Bridge Series, Canha flipped his bat into the air and bellowed, “This is my house!” T-shirts and a non-apology swiftly followed.
That home run was against the team he rooted for growing up — the San Francisco Giants. On Saturday, bat flipping season came early, as Canha sent a two-run bomb to left as part of a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, then quickly turned his head back, tossed the bat towards the visitor’s dugout and announced that it was “Bat flippin’ season.” After a disappointing late-inning collapse on Friday, Canha and the A’s fended off another late charge by the Angels, bouncing back behind a dominant performance from starter Brett Anderson.
“It’s that time of year, I guess,” Canha said. “Whenever I do stuff like that, it’s really spur-of-the-moment, none of it’s planned. I just kind of black out and something happens. I get maybe too excited, but that’s the kind of player I am.”
Anderson, who threw six shutout frames against the Giants in the opener of the exhibition Bay Bridge Series, became the third straight A’s starter to throw six shutout innings on Saturday in his regular-season debut. Anderson made it 20 straight scoreless innings for A’s starters (18 against the Angels), a group that was considered a weak spot for Oakland without Sean Manaea or the talented Jesus Luzardo.
“It’s been fantastic,” said manager Bob Melvin. “We got a lead when they’ve all come out of the game, they’ve all pitched well, they’re all doing what they’re supposed to do. [Mike] Fiers doing his thing, [Marco] Estrada getting fly balls like he does in a big ballpark, Brett, balls on the ground, they’ve all pitched really well here.”
Anderson worked around a pair of leadoff walks and a hit in the first two innings, as his fastball tailed away off the plate instead of finding the zone. He then settled down and allowed just two more hits, dialing up nine ground ball outs, retiring 13 of his final 15 hitters and throwing 96 pitches, 56 for strikes.
“The first three innings were grinding, but I made some pitches when I had to, and the defense was phenomenal behind me all night, and once I got past the first three innings, I was more back to normal,” Anderson said. “I got early ground ball outs and quick contact.”
Anderson, who used his slider to get back into competitive counts, extended his personal Coliseum scoreless innings streak to 34 1/3, the longest since the team moved to Oakland.
The outing comes at an especially convenient time for Oakland, which is on its third of 18 games in 18 days to start the United States portion of the season, after the A’s played — and lost — their first two official games against the Seattle Mariners in Japan.
Anderson — who has a 3.48 career ERA at the Oakland Coliseum, compared to his 4.09 overall mark — was aided by timely hitting. Oakland had left seven men on base in Friday’s late-inning collapse, but scored each of its four runs with two outs, including Canha’s two-run homer.
With two outs in the third, the A’s loaded the bases on a first-pitch single from Josh Phegley, a 3-1 liner to right by Robbie Grossman and an up-and-in, 90-mph, 3-1 fastball that grazed Matt Chapman’s shoulder. Whereas on Friday, the A’s were unable to convert an early bases-loaded situation, on Saturday right fielder Stephen Piscotty drove the fifth pitch he saw back up the middle for a two-run single.
Oakland added another pair on Canha’s blast, a 2-1 belt-high fastball that he sent flying 415 feet from home plate, chasing right-handed starter Felix Peña and cashing in a leadoff walk to Kendrys Morales.
“It was early-season excitement, excited to be out there, glad I was able to pop one there,” Canha said.
Canha was supposed to get some kind of regular playing time with Matt Olson on the shelf due to a broken hamate bone. He was supposed to be a part of the first base platoon with Jurickson Profar, with the occasional cameo by Chad Pinder, where he would hit against lefties.
“I have a chip on my shoulder when it comes to that stuff, whether it’s playing certain positions or hitting right-handers or whatever,” Canha said. “I always want to prove that I can do it all.”
Canha — who hit .249 with a career-high 17 homers in 411 plate appearances last season (the second-most of his career) — is at his best when he has consistent at-bats, but looked to be relegated to spot-start duty in the wake of Thursday’s trade for Morales, who started at first for the second straight game on Saturday.
With center fielder Ramon Laureano hitting just .118 in his first four games, though, Melvin decided to give the 24-year old a break, because he was “just a little anxious,” starting his first season on a big league roster. He went with the 30-year old Canha in center, after a solid batting cage session before the final game of the Bay Bridge Series. That cage session was what kept Canha hot, and he provided what turned out to be crucial insurance.
“Apparently there was a bat flip,” Melvin said. “I was watching the ball. That’s kind of his thing. It ends up being the biggest hit of the game.”
After Anderson departed, J.B. Wendelken came on, and after a 1-2-3 seventh, got into trouble in the eighth. A throwing error by Jurickson Profar on a slow roller by David Fletcher allowed the leadoff man to reach, and Zack Cozart launched a double high off the left center field wall to put two men in scoring position.
Mike Trout delivered a sacrifice fly to right to end Wendelken’s 17 2/3-inning scoreless innings streak, and Andrelton Simmons drove in Cozart with a single to left, before the A’s turned to closer Blake Treinen. After allowing a single to Albert Pujols, he caught Justin Bour looking at a 93 mph sinker on the outside corner, and got former A’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy to pop out to second.
“I don’t want to do it this early in the season, but we’re down [Joakim] Soria today, we’re down Lou [Trivino] today, so with the tying run there, it was just time to go to him,” Melvin said. “It’s a little extreme early in the season, but at the time, we felt we needed to do it.”
Treinen sat the Angels down in order in the top of the ninth for the five-out save, his first of the season.
“It’s always ideal to go to Blake,” Anderson said. “Any time he gets the ball, you think good things are going to happen. That’s why he’s special.”