OAKLAND — In late August of last season, 10-year old Anthony Slocumb got a chance, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, to watch the Oakland Athletics take batting practice before a game agasinst the Texas Rangers. While there, he got a chance to ask for an autograph from his favorite player: Khris Davis.
The A’s strongman obliged, and then did something Slocumb didn’t expect: He asked for his autograph. With Slocumb’s name scribbled on his left shoulder, Davis hit a 438-foot third-inning home run in the 9-0 win, and said that he wanted Slocumb — who had survived LCH (Langerhans cell histiocytosis), a rare type of cancer that can cause lesions all over one’s body — to feel, for at least a split second, like a big leaguer.
On Thursday, Slocumb — wearing the jersey he signed for Davis, one which Davis subsequently signed himself — visited again with Davis before his home opener against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and got to speak in front of television cameras, just like a big leaguer. Once again, Davis went yard, giving the A’s their final tally with a sixth-inning homer. The 4-0 win over the Angels had a bit of everything for Oakland fans, between a Davis home run, solid debuts from a pair of newcomers and a Blake Treinen 1-2-3 ninth to ice a bounceback win for starter Mike Fiers.
“He got after it and pounded the zone,” Davis said of Fiers. “That’s what we need from him. He’s our No. 1, and he pitched like it.”
Fiers opened the A’s two-game set against the Seattle Mariners in Japan last week by surrendering five earned runs on four hits in just three innings of work. It was the first of two regular-season losses for Oakland before they returned home for the exhibition Bay Bridge Series.
On Thursday, after giving up five balls hit at 96 mph or harder in the first three innings (including three at 100 mph or more), Fiers settled down, throwing all of his pitches for strikes. He went 4 1/3 hitless innings, and finished by going six shutout frames, threw 83 pitches (50 for strikes) and allowed just three walks and one hit. A’s pitchers as a group allowed just three hits on the day.
“We’re in-tune to what’s going on over here,” Davis said. “It was kind of a circus [in Japan], but I liked the way we responded today. It was a little more comfy at home.”
The win was the A’s fifth in secondary openers in their last 19 tries, and the first in their last 11.
“It felt a little more like Opening Day today,” said manager Bob Melvin. “Well-played all the way around. Mike really set the tone. We weren’t going more than 80 pitches today with him, given that he threw 50-some last time out, and really hadn’t been stretched out this spring.”
Fiers got into a spot of trouble in the fifth, giving up a one-out Tommy La Stella double and walking former Oakland catcher Jonathan Lucroy on four pitches. Third baseman Chapman then turned in his third stellar play in the last three days, backhanding a short hopper by Peter Bourjos for a 5-3 inning-ending double play.
“I was trying to challenge them, make good pitches and get them to swing early,” Fiers said. “I was really keeping them off balance. There was a couple hard-hit balls right at people, but we made some good defensive plays to get me out of some innings … It definitely felt better to be home in Oakland.”
Chapman — who made a backhanded, somersaulting grab in foul ground in the Tuesday finale of the Bay Bridge Series — victimized his former catcher in the top of the third. Lucroy, who caught for Oakland last season, smoked a liner at 103.9 mph off the bat, but Chapman was able to makea leaping grab. As Lucroy made his way back to the dugout, he pointed at the Platinum Glove winner.
Newcomers fared a bit better for the A’s than they did for the Angels, as Jurickson Profar, in his first official at-bat as an Athletic in the bottom of the second, tripled high off the wall in right on a 1-1 offering from former Oakland starter Trevor Cahill, missing a home run by mere feet. He then rode home on a sacrifice fly to center by Chad Pinder.
On Friday, A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane said that, with left-handed-hitting first baseman Matt Olson’s hamate bone surgery, the acquisitions of Profar and Robbie Grossman would loom all the larger. The two were responsible for Oakland’s first three hits, with Grossman singling twice and adding a stolen base in his first two at-bats.
After Grossman’s second single and his swipe of second, Cahill walked Chapman, then gave up a first-pitch RBI double to left to Stephen Piscotty.
In the bottom of the fourth, Cahill, who had a 1.84 ERA at the Oakland Coliseum as a starter last year for Oakland, left a flat sinker out over the plate for a 394-foot homer to dead center on a full-count offering to Marcus Semien, giving the A’s a 3-0 advantage. Davis hit his tater on a 1-2 offering from Cahill to lead off the sixth.
The shot traveled 404 feet, and landed in the second deck in left field, something Melvin said he’d never seen done. Davis said he doesn’t even try to go that way, even during batting practice.
“I try to impress myself,” he said. “It’s hard, but it feels good.”
It didn’t hurt that he had the young man he’s called his good luck charm in the stands.
“It was good to see [Slocumb’s] support, and it was warm that he still had the jersey on,” Davis said. “It just kind of rubbed off and carried over.”
Lucroy and Cahill, who both signed with the Angels this offseason, teamed up in 13 of Cahill’s 21 games with Oakland. Over 70 innings, Cahill had a 3.99 ERA with Lucroy, striking out 54 and walking 20.
Profar, playing first as part of a platoon with Mark Canha and the newly-arrived Kendrys Morales, had a bit of a miscue in the first, mis-playing a tough hop by Justin Bour in the midst of a shift. Shortstop Marcus Semien, though, playing behind him in that shift, was able to field the ball and throw to the covering Fiers for the out.
The Angels went 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position.
With 18 games in 18 days to start the season, the A’s needed a long outing from Fiers, and got it. Lou Trivino, Joakim Soria and Treinen finished things out with one inning apiece.
“I didn’t even really expect to even get six out of [Fiers],” Melvin said. “We knew our pitch count would be a bit lower with him, but it’s a good start to 18 in a row and the homestand.”
Grossman, who got a boost in playing time after a right knee sprain suffered by Nick Martini, went 2-for-4 at the top of the lineup, and is hitting .429 in his first three games with the A’s.
“In the beginning, it looks like we have Martini to do that, but when he became available, you’re always looking for depth, and when Nick gets hurt, he moves right in there,” Melvin said. “Once he gets on base, we see him hit the ball the other way and make pitchers work. Good start for him at home.”