Athletics

With family on his mind, Cotton provides lift with some huge help in A's win

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USATSI

With family on his mind, Cotton provides lift with some huge help in A's win

BOSTON — Utilizing his platform as a major leaguer, Jharel Cotton is doing his part to help with hurricane relief in the Caribbean.

On Wednesday night, his A’s teammates provided him a boost as well.

Cotton navigated through trouble to make it through five innings, benefiting from some early offense, a stout bullpen and one very heady defensive play by Matt Olson to get the victory as the A’s beat the Red Sox 7-3 at Fenway Park.

The win snapped an eight-game road losing streak for the A’s, and it gave Cotton just his second win of the season in a night game. He came in with a 1-7 record and 8.00 ERA in 11 starts under the lights.

“I wasn’t thinking about it too much,” Cotton said. “I just wanted to come in and give my team a chance to win.”

Cotton (8-10) has concerns on his mind beyond his pitching. He took the mound Wednesday with the inscription “VI/BVI Strong” written on his cap, short for “Virgin Islands/British Virgin Islands Strong.” He was born on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and spent a big chunk of his childhood on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, and he’s very much aware of the destructive damage done by Hurricane Irma throughout the Caribbean.

Cotton’s father had the roof blown off his house and his uncle suffered similar damage to his home, though Cotton’s relatives all remained safe. In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, Cotton started a GoFundMe page to raise money for relief efforts. He’s raised more than $12,000 so far.

“It means a lot to me because that’s where I grew up,” he said. “There’s a lot of people back there that need a lot of help, and for me to be on the stage I’m on right now to do that is pretty awesome.”

Cotton was making his first career start against Boston, and his teammates staked him to a four-run lead in the first before he even took the mound. It was a 6-2 game in the third when the Sox loaded the bases with one out. Mitch Moreland hit a bouncer to Olson at first, and the rookie alertly took the out at first and then fired home to nail Dustin Pedroia trying to score for an inning-ending double play.

That play had A’s manager Bob Melvin marveling at Olson’s defensive acumen for a 23-year-old.

“It was the kind of situation where if they hit it hard at you, you can go to second and turn two,” Olson said. “But it wasn’t hit that great. It took me a little toward the bag. You just improvise a bit (with) momentum heading that way.”

Liam Hendriks, Daniel Coulombe, Ryan Dull, Chris Hatcher and Blake Treinen combined for four scoreless innings to close it out as the A’s won for the sixth time in seven games.

Cotton hardly was overpowering, giving up three runs on six hits over his five innings. But he helped the A’s snap a seven-game losing streak at Fenway, their longest since an eight-gamer that bridged 1996 and 1997.

“He definitely had to battle through some stuff a couple times to where we were on the verge of getting him out, and he ended up getting some double plays from some pretty good hitters,” Melvin said. “You look at the box score, and it doesn’t tell you how he battled.”

Matt Olson breaks Oakland rookie record by homering in fifth consecutive game

Matt Olson breaks Oakland rookie record by homering in fifth consecutive game

The beat goes on for Matt Olson, who set an Oakland rookie record Tuesday by homering for the fifth consecutive game.

That makes it 23 in just 55 games this season for the A’s first baseman, and an astonishing 15 homers in his past 21 games. In his first plate appearance Tuesday, Olson pounded a hanging 0-1 curve from Tigers lefty Chad Bell deep into the right field seats at Comerica Park.

Since Aug. 11, Olson leads all of major league baseball with 19 homers. And his 23 homers are the most in franchise history over the first 66 games of a career.

According to baseball statistician Doug Kern, just three others in Oakland history have ever gone deep five games in a row: Dave Kingman in 1986, Matt Stairs in 1998 and Frank Thomas in 2006.

A by-the-numbers look at Matt Olson's home run tear

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USATI

A by-the-numbers look at Matt Olson's home run tear

When it comes to power hitting, rookie first baseman Matt Olson has enjoyed one of the most impressive career-opening stretches in A’s history.

He went deep again in Monday night’s 8-3 victory over Detroit. Although he’s only played in roughly one-third of Oakland’s games this year, Olson has vaulted into a tie for fourth on the team with 22 homers this season.

Here’s a glance inside some of the numbers behind the rookie’s home run tear:

22 — Olson’s 2017 —and career — home run total. Those 22 homers tie Mark McGwire for most in franchise history over a player’s first 65 games.

18: The number of times Olson has gone deep since Aug. 11, which leads the American League.

19 — The number of major league games Olson appeared in before connecting for his first homer. That came June 24. Since then, he hasn’t gone more than eight games in the majors without clearing the fence.

47 — Olson was the 47th overall pick of the 2012 draft, a compensation choice between the first and second rounds. He was one of a trio of high school infielders Oakland took with its first three picks that year. The others were two shortstops — Addison Russell (11th overall) and Daniel Robertson (34th).

At the time the A’s said perhaps they had drafted three-fourths of their future infield. But Russell and Robertson eventually got dealt. Now, Olson is part of a different young infield core that could include third baseman Matt Chapman and second baseman Franklin Barreto along with veteran shortstop Marcus Semien.

2: The number of players in the past 30 years to hit 20 homers in both the minors and majors in the same season. Olson has done it this year. Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton, who’s generating his share of headlines with his own power hitting, did it back in 2010.

103 The number of homers Olson hit over five minor league seasons leading into this year. That included a whopping 37 for Single-A Stockton in the homer-happy California League in 2014. In comparison, the 17 homers he hit each of the next two seasons at Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville looked paltry. Olson says he struggled for a while to trust his natural power stroke and not try to alter his approach too much to boost those power numbers.

4: The total number of major leaguers produced by Olson’s alma mater of Parkview High School in Lilburn, Ga. The others were outfielder Jeff Francoeur, infielder Jeff Keppinger and catcher Clint Sammons.

4 (Part II): Number of consecutive games Olson has homered in. That ties the Oakland rookie record for most games in a row with a homer. Dan Johnson also homered in four straight from Aug. 3-6, 2005. Extend it out farther, and Olson has gone deep 14 times over his past 20 games. And speaking of that …

14: Olson is tied with a couple of legends when it comes to most homers in a 20-game span in Oakland history. McGwire (1987) and Reggie Jackson (1969) also had 14 over their own 20-game stretches, and Jackson did it twice that season. (Hat tip to A’s P.R. stats guru Mike Selleck for several of these factoids, by the way).

23: Remember that Olson is just 23 years old. His 22 homers are the most in a single season by an Athletic 23 or younger since Eric Chavez swatted 32 back in 2001. Chavez also was 23 at the time.